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SEA@TEX: Hernandez fans nine, holds Rangers to one

The Astros have already had their fair share of tough pitching assignments so far this season, having faced CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Jered Weaver, Yu Darvish, Mark Buehrle, R.A. Dickey and Sonny Gray, to name a few.

Next up: King Felix.

The Mariners will send Felix Hernandez (3-0, 1.91 ERA) to the mound in Monday night's series opener against the Astros at Safeco Field. The Mariners ace has been outstanding in four starts, with only a blown save in his last start in Arlington last Wednesday keeping him from four straight wins.

"He's a good pitcher," Astros catcher Jason Castro said. "But like anybody else, he can be hit around. We'll just stick with our approach and try to be as disciplined as possible. That's what we really have to stick to and go from there."

In two wins over the Astros last year, Hernandez didn't allow a run. Astros second baseman Jose Altuve says it's only a matter of time before the team's struggling offense gets on track.

"I trust my guys," Altuve said. "I know they're going to hit. This is baseball, and we've played only 17, 18 games. This is only the start of the season. Maybe sometimes it's hard to start really good, but I know my team is going to be good and I trust them."

The Astros will start left Dallas Keuchel (1-1, 3.50), who delivered a quality start in each of his previous two outings, throwing a combined 13 innings against the Blue Jays and Royals, allowing three runs on 11 hits.

The Mariners are struggling nearly as much as the Astros. They were swept by the Marlins over the weekend in Miami, meaning they'll enter Monday on a six-game losing streak.

"It's a team. It's not pitchers or hitters or one guy," reliever Danny Farquhar said. "It's everybody doing their part. We're on a little skid right now, and we'll bounce out of that."

Altuve can relate.

"We just have a slow start, nothing else," Altuve said. "Like I said before, I'm not panicking. I know they can swing the bat and that's the most important thing."

Astros: Springer off to fast start at the plate
Astros rookie right-fielder George Springer has hit safely in his first five Major Leagues games, entering Monday's game in Seattle with a .273 batting average. The last Astros player to record hits in each of his first five Major League games was Altuve, who hit in seven in a row to start his career in 2011.

"I don't think anything of it," said Springer, who also made a terrific diving catch in the first inning on Sunday against Oakland. "I'm just trying to go out there and hit the ball hard. The goal every game is to get a hit and hit the ball hard. That's what I've been trying to do. I'm still getting my feet wet and just trying to be consistent."

Mariners: Bullpen workload a concern
Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon keeps tabs of the number of innings, days and up-and-downs each reliever accumulates, and for good reason. Over the last four games, Seattle's starting pitchers have combined to allow 23 hits and 16 runs (14 earned) over 15 innings.

"Our bullpen is the backbone of our club, but it won't be if we keep logging the innings that we're logging," McClendon said. "We've got to get our starting rotation straightened out. I said this coming out of Spring Training -- I think it takes about 50 games before you really know what type of club you really have, how you want to attack."

Worth noting
• The Astros played the Mariners tough last year, going 9-10 against them, including 6-3 at Safeco Field.

• Seattle has been shut out four times this season, tied with the Cubs for Major League lead.

• Astros rookie outfielder George Springer has hit safely in his first five Major League games.

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