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Rangers, Harden Look To Avoid Being Swept By Mariners

(Sports Network) - Rich Harden makes his first start in a month this afternoon when the Texas Rangers try to salvage the finale of their three-game series with the Seattle Mariners at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.

Harden, who is 5-5 with a 5.42 earned run average on the year, absorbed the loss in his last start back on August 28 against Oakland, as he allowed four runs and eight hits in 4 1/3 innings. He has pitched twice in relief since but has not recorded a decision.

"That's the big thing I've struggled with -- is finding consistency," Harden said after his last start. "I guess that's been the key to this season. I feel close, I feel good. ... Tonight I just missed with a few pitches. I felt I had a good off-speed pitch going. It's just frustrating."

In 11 games (eight starts) against the Mariners, Harden is 5-2 with a 1.90 ERA.

Texas can only hope Harden gives it the type of performance AL Cy Young Award candidate Felix Hernandez put forth on Tuesday. Hernandez pitched eight stellar innings to lead Seattle to a 3-1 win.

Hernandez (13-12) allowed one run on five hits with five strikeouts for the Mariners, who have won three straight following a three-game skid.

"I would say he is," said Rangers manager Ron Washington about Hernandez, in regard to the AL Cy Young Award. "He has electric stuff. He can sink it, he can run it, he can spin it, he can change it, and when he smells the finish line, he can get there."

Justin Smoak, who was drafted by the Rangers and made his major league debut with them this season, hit a two-run homer in the victory.

"It always means something when you do something to help your team win," Smoak said. "But against them, yeah, it means a little more, especially right now."

Scott Feldman suffered the loss in a brief outing. Feldman (7-11) allowed three runs on five hits over 4 1/3 innings of work for the AL West-champion Rangers, who are waiting to see how things shake out in terms of their potential playoff opponent.

Heading to the hill for the Mariners today will be left-hander Jason Vargas, who has lost his last seven starts - one shy of a franchise record shared by Randy Johnson (1992) and Rick Honeycutt (1980).

Vargas' most recent loss came on Friday against Tampa Bay, which ripped him for five runs in 4 1/3 innings. He is 9-12 on the year to go along with a 3.91 ERA.

The road hasn't been kind to Vargas, who is 2-7 with a 5.20 ERA in 14 starts away from Safeco Field.

Vargas lost to the Rangers two starts ago and is 1-3 lifetime against them with a 5.81 ERA in seven games, five of which have been starts.

Texas is 11-7 against the Mariners this season.

Photographs by jamesbrandon, jdtornow, phlezk, flygraphix, mcdlttx, tomasland, and literalbarrage used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.