ARLINGTON -- One good game is a step in the right direction, but back-to-back good games are something totally different. It suggests that a struggling player is back on track.

Left-hander Horacio Ramirez made consecutive solid starts against the Twins and Rangers, and it has done wonders for his confidence heading into the final five weeks of the regular season.

"It shows I'm going down the right road," Ramirez said, "and I'm really looking forward to the last five weeks. This is the part of the year that's the most fun. It's a lot of fun."

To get where they want to go this season, the American League playoffs, the Mariners are going to need solid starting pitching -- from all five starters. A contending team is only as strong as its weakest link, and how the starters perform will have a huge impact on the team's hunt for October.

"A pitching coach is always searching for a way to have your five horses pulling in the same direction," Rafael Chaves said. "We feel good about Horacio. I've always said that confidence comes with success, and when you experience success, your confidence rises.

"He's had success for two straight outings, and I would think he should have more confidence."

Manager John McLaren echoed those sentiments.

"I think it makes him feel good about himself," McLaren said. "We have confidence in him."

After going 7 1/3 innings and getting his eighth win of the season on Monday to start the Mariners' seven-game road trip on a winning note, Ramirez held the Rangers scoreless until the fifth inning Saturday night, when third baseman Adrian Beltre uncorked a wild throw with two outs, and Ramirez surrendered a game-tying, three-run home run two pitches later.

The Mariners ended up losing the game and Ramirez ended up with a no-decision -- but good vibes about the way he threw the ball.

"I felt real good," Ramirez said. "I was able to throw all of my pitches for strikes. The last two games are encouraging. I just wish we could have come out with a win.

If he keeps pitching the way he did Saturday night, the chances of him, and the Mariners, coming out with a win are exceptional.

Ramirez's next start is Thursday night in Cleveland in the third makeup game of an early-season four-game series that was wiped out by snow. He started the series opener against the Indians, surrendering five runs before the game was stopped one out from being a regulation game.

"It shouldn't snow this time," he said.

Trivia challenge: The Mariners have allowed four unearned runs twice this season, including Saturday night's game against the Rangers. What are the similarities between Saturday night and the other time it happened?

Take that! Several of the Mariners, including catcher Kenji Johjima, watched a team from Georgia beat Japan to win the Little League World Series championship on the visiting clubhouse TVs.

"I talked to Joh a little bit about our U.S. win," McLaren said, "and he wasn't too happy."

Tunnel vision: McLaren was asked about the upcoming series against the Angels during his pregame chat with the media, but his focus was elsewhere. He doesn't like looking ahead.

"Not at all," he said. "We're in position to win a series [against the Rangers]. I know you get tired of me saying the same thing, but we have been very consistent with taking one series at a time. It has worked for us, that's what we're all about, and that's why we are in the position we are in now.

"I'll talk about [the Angels series] after the game. Let's get this game tonight and head home feeling good about ourselves."

Pinch-hitter: With the Mariners due to arrive back in Seattle around 3 a.m. PT on Monday following Sunday night's game in Arlington, longtime broadcaster Dave Niehaus missed the final game of the four-game series against the Rangers and was replaced in the booth by Ken Levine.

Flying solo: Miguel Batista, the Mariners' starting pitcher in Monday night's series opener, flew back to Seattle on a commercial flight so he would get plenty of rest.

"We asked him what he wanted to do and he said he wanted to go back [early], so he did," McLaren said. "We've done it before. We did it here with [Jeff] Weaver."

McLaren said that whenever the team returns late at night from a road trip, the next game's starting pitcher has the choice of returning early or staying with the team.

The answer is: On April 15, the Mariners surrendered four unearned runs in a game against the Rangers at Safeco Field. The starting pitcher was Ramirez, the same pitcher that started Saturday night's game.

On deck: The Mariners begin an important three-game series against the Angels at Safeco Field on Monday night, with Batista (13-9, 4.57 ERA) opposing Angels right-hander John Lackey (15-8, 3.34). First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. PT.