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Starting pitching a wild card as Mariners host Angels

SEATTLE -- The days of teams getting 30 starts from each of their five starting pitchers might be past.

And, for the Seattle Mariners and Los Angeles Angels, it's the distant past.

Since the start of the 2016 season, the Mariners have used 23 starting pitchers, the most in the American League, and the Angels have used 20, the second-highest total.

Yet the Mariners (59-57) are tied with Tampa Bay for the AL's second and final wild-card berth, with the Angels (58-58) only a game behind after a 6-3 victory at Seattle on Thursday.

The teams continue their four-game series Friday night at Safeco Field, with Angels right-hander Ricky Nolasco (5-12, 5.09 ERA) going against Marco Gonzales (0-0, 12.27). The Mariners' left-hander will be making his second start since being acquired in a July 21 trade with St. Louis.

"We've played great defense and we've had some guys who have filled in and kept us in the race," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said.

Nolasco will be making his ninth career start against Seattle -- the fourth this season. He's 2-4 with a 3.88 ERA all-time against the Mariners, including a three-hit shutout July 1 in Anaheim.

Unlike the Mariners' rotation, the Angels' staff seems to be getting healthier. On Thursday, Tyler Skaggs pitched 6 1/3 scoreless innings in his second start since coming off the disabled list.

Fellow left-hander Andrew Heaney, who has been out all season with an elbow injury, is scheduled to make a rehab start Saturday for Triple-A Salt Lake.

Garrett Richards, who pitched four scoreless innings in the third game of the season before suffering a right biceps strain and has been out since, might return in September.

"Hopefully we're getting healthy, more toward the rotation we anticipated (this season)," Scioscia said.

The Mariners have never enjoyed that luxury. Left-hander Drew Smyly has missed the entire season and underwent Tommy John surgery.

Longtime ace Felix Hernandez is on the disabled list for the second time this season with bursitis in his right shoulder, and fellow right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma has been out since early May with inflammation in his pitching shoulder.

After left-hander James Paxton, who left in the seventh inning Thursday with a left pectoral strain, the Mariners' rotation currently includes Gonzales, recently re-acquired Erasmo Ramirez, Ariel Miranda and Yovani Gallardo.

"If you look at the numbers, the guys in the rotation right now after Paxton ... they're struggling," Mariners manager Scott Servais said. "We're going to have to do it a little different. We can't expect six innings -- maybe four and change. We might have to rely on the bullpen."

Servais pointed to May, when all the Seattle starters but Gallardo were on the disabled list. The team would often use a long reliever for four innings and send them to Triple-A Tacoma the next day and recall a fresh arm.

"Like in May, we might have the shuttle with Tacoma," Servais said. "Is it going to be easy? No, it's not. Are we up to the challenge? Yes.

"With our starting pitching, it's going to be difficult to win eight, nine, 10 games in a row. That's why we talk about, 'Just win the series.'"

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