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SEA@TEX: Maurer allows only two hits vs. Rangers

The Mariners return home from their Texas road stretch to confront one of the league's most interesting teams.

Seattle will host the American League West-rival Angels for a four-game series starting Thursday, a chance for both teams to steady their footing in the turbulent division. The Mariners have won just six of their last 21 games after beginning the season 2-0, and they will have rookie Brandon Maurer on the mound against Garrett Richards in the opener.

Maurer has just four big league starts under his belt, and he has been a bit mercurial. The right-hander allowed six earned runs in each of his first two starts -- one against Oakland and the other against Houston -- but settled down to allow four total earned runs in back-to-back starts against Texas. Maurer, 22, has impressed manager Eric Wedge.

"I've been really happy with his last two starts," Wedge said. "I think he sees the game differently now than when he first came up, which is very common for a young starting pitcher. Which gives him an ability to focus and keep his mind in the moment and do what he needs to do. All those things are working in his favor. And of course, he has the stuff."

Maurer, a 23rd-round selection in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft, has had the stuff to progress quickly through Seattle's farm system. He struggled a bit at High A Desert in 2011 -- when he posted a 6.38 ERA in nine appearances -- but served notice last year with a 9-2 record and a 3.20 ERA for Double-A Jackson. Now, Maurer is just starting to relax.

"I'm staying over the rubber and just being smooth with my delivery," he said. "Not trying to overthrow anything."

Richards began the season in the Angels' bullpen and moved into the rotation after an injury to staff ace Jered Weaver. The 24-year-old made three scoreless relief appearances in four outings before his first start, and he has completed at least six innings in each of his rotation turns. Richards threw seven innings and gave up just two hits in his last start, so he could be making a case to stay in the five-man set even once Weaver returns.

When asked what has been the key to taking advantage of the opportunity, Richards said, "Just attacking guys and believing in your stuff."

The same, he said, goes for the rest of the team.

"I know we started off rough in the beginning of the year, but we're talented [in roster positions] 1 through 25," Richards said. "I wasn't worried about it. Once we started clicking as far as the pitching and the offense goes, we'll be fine.

"We're going to feed off of one another. The offense isn't going to be there every night and the pitching isn't going to be there every night, but the more times we are on the same page, the more ballgames we are going to win."

Angels: Hamilton heating up
Josh Hamilton is off to a slow start for the Angels, but he has shown signs of coming around. The five-time All-Star had four hits in a loss Monday night, and he came back to hit safely in Tuesday's 5-4 victory over the Rangers. On Wednesday, he went 1-for-3. Prior to that three-game stretch, Hamilton had gone more than a week without getting hits in consecutive games.

• Manager Mike Scioscia is pleased that the core starters have picked it up of late, although Wednesday against the Rangers was a slight setback for rookie left-hander Michael Roth. "Some of these guys are good pitchers that really just took a while to get into their game," Scioscia said. "Garrett's throwing the ball really well, he threw a terrific game, Joe Blanton threw better the other day. You know Jason Vargas was going to bounce back his track record is too strong. C.J. [Wilson], after a rough couple innings, threw a strong game."

Mariners: Shortstop shuffle
Robert Andino is going to start getting some more playing time at shortstop for the Mariners, who also have an interesting time-sharing arrangement in left field. Raul Ibanez is hitting just .148 but has gotten the majority of playing time out in left field recently, but Jason Bay -- who has started just one of the last six games -- will get some more time soon.

The Mariners have played against several right-handed starters recently, which is why Ibanez has been the choice. The Angels are scheduled to start lefty Wilson on Friday night and southpaw Vargas in Sunday's finale.

"When we have these right-handers, I want to give our left-handers a chance," said Wedge of the developing platoon and how he would handle playing the two veterans moving forward. "I like Jason. That's why he made this team. I'm not saying he's just going to play strictly against left-handers, but I'm trying to give Raul every chance to get on line."

Worth noting
• The Angels are in the middle of a 10-game stretch against AL West foes.

•The Angels went 11-8 against Seattle last season.

• Kyle Seager has a 13-game hitting streak for the Mariners.

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