HOUSTON -- With center fielder Jake Marisnick joining George Springer on the 10-day disabled list, the Houston Astros have entered a stretch of uncertainty relative to the configuration of their outfield defense.
Marisnick (left groin) and Springer (left thumb) serve as primary defensive cogs for the Astros (73-45), leaving veteran Josh Reddick as the lone starter available for duty heading into Sunday's finale of a four-game series with the Seattle Mariners.
In the interim, Astros manager A.J. Hinch will utilize a mix of super utility man Marwin Gonzalez, Tony Kemp, second-year outfielder Derek Fisher, and rookie Kyle Tucker to keep the defense afloat as Houston tries to avert getting swept.
"Versatility is important but I also don't want to underestimate how important it is for them to play well out there," Hinch said. "When we have Marisnick in center field with Springer and Reddick, that was our primary outfield defensively and certainly how I've tried to end games.
"It's important for these guys that are going to get some playing time out there to play good defense. Part of having a good pitching staff is having a shutdown defense as well, and as guys play a little out of position or they're a little inexperienced. It's nice to be able to put them anywhere, but I want to make sure that we continue to run down the fly balls and get the outs that we need."
The Mariners will be going for the sweep after Ryon Healy hit the go-ahead single in the fourth inning of Saturday's 3-2 victory. The Mariners are 44-17 in games decided by two runs or fewer and are five games back of the Astros in the AL West.
Left-hander Dallas Keuchel (9-9, 3.53 ERA) will start the series finale for the Astros, seeking to climb above .500 for the first time this season while also helping Houston avert getting swept in its second straight home series.
After falling to 4-8 at Kansas City on June 16, Keuchel is 5-1 with a 1.97 ERA over his last seven starts, allowing a .549 OPS during that stretch. He is 9-7 with a 3.12 ERA over 18 career appearances (17 starts) against the Mariners, including 1-2 with a 4.98 ERA over three starts this season.
Felix Hernandez was set to start but was sent to the bullpen to work out his season-long struggles. He is 8-10 with a 5.73 ERA in the worst season of his 14-year career.
Hernandez is the third straight season of what has been a steady decline in production. The fact that Hernandez has never appeared in relief in his career will require an adjustment on his behalf, primarily with regard to the daily routine required of a reliever compared to what he is accustomed to having made 398 starts.
"I had a good conversation with my wife, my family, my agent," Hernandez said. "I'm finally right up here (mentally)."
Hernandez acknowledged that he doesn't know how long it will take for him to get warm for a relief appearance, although Mariners manager Scott Servais announced that whenever Hernandez is summoned, it will be at the start of an inning, not in the middle of one.
The challenge facing Hernandez is clear. Ever prideful, he declared that he will be poised for it.
"I'm a professional so I'm going to be ready and prepared every day," Hernandez said. "That's what I'm going to do, just go for it. Just try and be better."
Right-hander Erasmo Ramirez (0-2, 10.24 ERA) is set to be activated from the 10-day disabled list and will start instead of Hernandez.
Ramirez has been out since April with a strained right teres major. He has made two starts for the Mariners this season, both in late April. Ramirez is 3-2 with a 4.35 ERA over nine career appearances (six starts) against the Astros.
With banged-up outfield, Astros try to avert sweep by Mariners