Hernandez returns as Mariners host Astros

SEATTLE -- When Felix Hernandez pitches at Safeco Field, there's a different atmosphere.

The seats in the left-field corner are filled with fans sitting in "King's Court," wearing "King Felix" T-shirts and holding "K" cards to wave with every two-strike count.

But court has been out of session for much of the season as Hernandez has been on the disabled list since April 26 with bursitis in his right shoulder.

The longtime Seattle ace is scheduled to make his return Friday night, when the Mariners open a three-game weekend series against the American League West-leading Houston Astros.

"I don't care who I face, I'm just happy to be back -- finally," said Hernandez, who is 2-2 with a 4.73 ERA this season.

Hernandez, the Mariners' career leader in wins (156), innings (2,442 1/3), strikeouts (2,286) and starts (364), has won both his appearances at home this season.

"The stadium will be buzzing," Mariners catcher Mike Zunino said. "It's great to get our ace back out there."

Added Seattle third baseman Kyle Seager: "Any time you get your guy back, especially someone the caliber of Felix, your confidence is going to get a big boost."

The injury-riddled Mariners (38-37), who passed the .500 mark for the first time Thursday and are 12 1/2 games behind the Astros in the division race, could use a boost.

Four members of the projected rotation have spent significant time on the disabled list, with Hisashi Iwakuma and Drew Smyly still sidelined.

That makes Hernandez's return even more important.

"Felix pitches with a lot of emotion. He will be up (Friday). He's anxious to get back and help the team," Mariners manager Scott Servais said. "Somehow we've stayed afloat through all the injuries, but there's a lot of work to be done."

Hernandez had hoped to return earlier in the week, but he struggled with his command in a rehab start for Triple-A Tacoma. Instead he got one more game with the Rainiers, pitching six scoreless innings and striking out eight Saturday against Salt Lake.

"The first was fine," Hernandez said of the rehab starts, "but the second was way better. I could put the ball wherever I wanted."

Hernandez is 3-6 with a 4.25 ERA in 11 career starts against the Astros. He took the loss on Opening Day this season at Minute Maid Park, allowing two runs on five hits in five innings, with six strikeouts.

Hernandez is scheduled to face Astros right-hander Joe Musgrove (4-6, 5.09 ERA).

Musgrove has made two career starts against the Mariners, both this season. He took a no-decision April 6 at Houston, allowing two runs on five hits in five innings of a 4-2 loss. Musgrove got the win April 11 at Seattle, giving up three runs on seven hits in 5 1/3 innings of a 7-5 victory.

Musgrove has lost both his decisions since a stint on the 10-day disabled list due to right shoulder inflammation. He struck out a season-high seven in a 6-5 loss Sunday against Boston, allowing five runs on six hits in 5 2/3 innings. Musgrove threw 90 pitches.

Astros manager A.J. Hinch said he doesn't consider Musgrove to be 100 percent quite yet.

"One step closer to that, obviously," Hinch told the Houston Chronicle. "Fully back, to me, is extending him north of 100 pitches."