Two recent comeback stories and two American League West division rivals meet head-on Sunday when the A's and Mariners conclude their three-game series at Safeco Field.
The A's will hand the ball to left-hander Scott Kazmir, who continues to enjoy a career renaissance after looking like he might be done with professional baseball just a couple of years ago. The Mariners will counter with righty Chris Young, who will make his first Major League start since Sept. 29, 2012, in the series' rubber match.
Kazmir, who signed a two-year, $22 million deal with Oakland after rediscovering his mid-90s fastball in Cleveland last season, comes into the game with a sparkling 2-0 record and 2.03 ERA this year. His last outing was labor-intensive but resulted in a victory over the Minnesota Twins.
In that effort, the lefty gave up three runs in six innings and did just enough to win.
"When he needed to, he made the pitches he needed to make to get out of jams, and that's what he does well," A's catcher Derek Norris said.
"He gave up a couple of runs, but it's going to happen, and he had a little stiffness in his back, which didn't allow him to get through on some of his pitches."
Meanwhile, Young, 34, will make his second appearance of the year and first start after signing with the Mariners right before the regular season began. Young has battled shoulder injuries for years, with his last 30-start campaign coming in his 2007 All-Star season with the San Diego Padres. He's building back up to full strength and should be on a limit of 80-90 pitches, according to Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon.
For Young, it's all part of a progression that he's happy to say is familiar once again.
"I'm preparing like any other start, making sure that I'm mentally and physically ready to go, and then I'll try to execute pitches," Young said. "To me, it's not any different. I want to win, and that's my focus.
"I'm not going to evaluate right now -- there's not much to go on. But I do feel really good. I'm confident in where I am. The swings sort of tell you how your stuff is, and I think my stuff has played pretty well."
Mariners: Defense looking better
Last year, the Mariners ranked last in the Major Leagues in defense, according to Fangraphs.com rankings, with an overall score of minus-78.4. Heading into Saturday's game, however, Seattle is slightly better than the middle of the pack this season, rating 14th on Fangraphs' scale at 0.0.
A younger, more athletic outfield has helped, as has brilliant early-season work by catcher Mike Zunino, first baseman Justin Smoak, and the team's new resident two-time Gold Glover, second baseman Robinson Cano. Cano has two errors this season, including a rare missed backhand play in Friday night's victory over Oakland, but that is recognized as a clear deviation from the norm.
"I've been very pleased," McClendon said. "I was shocked when Robbie booted the ball because you just don't see that. It's just an automatic out."
McClendon mentioned a program he started called the "4 O'Clock Hour" in which players take part in 15-20 minutes of intense infield and outfield drills on game days.
"I think it's paying off," McClendon said. "We started in Spring Training, and we'll continue it throughout the season, but I told our guys the one way we can close the gap is to catch the ball and run the bases."
A's: Gentry activated
Outfielder Craig Gentry returned from the 15-day disabled list Saturday, with Oakland designating Sam Fuld for assignment to clear a roster spot.
The A's have high hopes for Gentry, who was acquired in an offseason trade with the Texas Rangers, but the veteran, who is known for his glove work, missed all of Spring Training with a lower back strain. The club will ease him into the mix, likely starting him in two games in Anaheim next week.
"He can impact the game, whether it's on defense, whether it's baserunning, pinch-hitting," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "He knows how to play that role, and that's kind of an acquired taste. He's done a really good job at that, and that's one of the reasons we targeted him and a reason he's here."
• A's infielder Alberto Callaspo is batting .400 (10-for-25) in April and is a career .295 (132-for-448) hitter in the month, his best avearage for any month of the season.
• Over his last 21 games at Safeco Field (since Aug. 7, 2013), Mariners left fielder Dustin Ackley is hitting .377 (26-for-69) with eight doubles and two home runs.
Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.