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Masterson Looks To Avoid Seattle Sweep Against Mariners' Ace

(Sports Network) - Two last-place teams will do battle this afternoon in the series finale of a three-game set at Progressive Field, where the Cleveland Indians will host the Seattle Mariners.

Seattle, which is currently in the bottom spot of the AL West, has won the first two games of this series. On Saturday, Josh Bard's first career grand slam capped a five-run fifth inning that helped the Mariners pummel the Indians, 9-3.

Bard had a season-high four hits and scored twice for the Mariners, who won their first road series since June 29-July 1 against the Yankees. They had lost their last four series away from Safeco Field.

Russell Branyan and Casey Kotchman also homered as Seattle recorded its highest offensive output since scoring 15 runs on May 21. Starting pitcher Jason Vargas (9-5) lasted seven innings, allowing three runs on five hits and three walks while fanning four.

Jayson Nix homered and drove in two runs for the Indians, who have lost six of seven. Asdrubal Cabrera added two hits and a run scored in defeat.

Mitch Talbot (8-10), who was activated off the disabled list earlier Saturday, gave up six runs -- four earned -- on eight hits and three walks in four-plus innings for Cleveland to receive the loss.

In hopes of recording a sweep, Seattle will turn to its best pitcher in Felix Hernandez this afternoon. The hard-throwing right-hander snapped a three-game slide with an outstanding victory over Oakland earlier this week.

The young hurler was dominant in Tuesday's win over the A's, striking out 13 batters in eight scoreless innings. Hernandez walked just one batter and scattered five hits in the win.

Hernandez has posted a solid 2.99 earned run average on the road this season, but that has not translated into many victories, as the Mariners' prized pitcher is just 2-5 away from home.

In seven career outings against Cleveland, Hernandez has posted a 3-2 ledger with a 3.71 ERA.

As for the Indians, they will turn to Justin Masterson, who has dropped three of his last four starts. The most recent setback for the young hurler came Monday against Baltimore.

In that setback Masterson surrendered seven runs -- four earned -- on six hits in five innings. It was the 11th loss on the year for the San Diego State product, who comes into this matchup with a poor 5.47 earned run average.

In front of Cleveland fans, the 25-year-old is just 2-5 with a 4.18 earned run average in 10 starts. However, in five career appearances (two starts) against the Mariners, Masterson has been outstanding, allowing three runs in over 17 innings of duty. He has only walked four batters and recorded 16 strikeouts in that time.

Friday's series opener was the first meeting between the teams this season. Cleveland won six of 10 against Seattle last year.

Photographs by spatulated, Triple Tri, and chrischappelear used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.