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09/29/10 12:03 AM ET

Rangers pitch well, but fall to Mariners ace

ARLINGTON -- It's difficult to take too much away from a 3-1 Rangers loss in which the American League's best starting pitcher this season, Felix Hernandez, dominated a lineup resting most of its firepower for the postseason. But a few eventful things did happen for the Rangers on a Tuesday night in which three-fourths of the starting infield, designated hitter Vladimir Guerrero and injured outfielder Josh Hamilton all looked on.

Begin with starter Tommy Hunter, who made the first relief appearance of his Major League career, a significant moment considering he'll be pitching out of the bullpen when the playoffs open on Oct. 6 at either Tampa Bay or New York.

He came in with a runner at first base in the fifth inning -- inherited from starter Scott Feldman -- and Hunter retired both hitters he faced. He got Chone Figgins to ground out to first, and he struck out Jose Lopez on a curveball.

"It was different, I will tell you that," said Hunter, who is 13-4 with a 3.83 ERA as a starter this season. "I'm just glad I didn't give up Scott's run."

Hunter said he did get some helpful hints about being a reliever while sitting in the bullpen -- not allowing inherited runners to score and keeping a low batting average to the first hitter faced being two of them. He accomplished both.

"I had some adrenaline going," Hunter said. "I was ready to go after a couple of warmup pitches. I was really worried about the runner at first. I'm usually not worried about the runner at first. I didn't want him to score."

Rangers manager Ron Washington said he just wanted to get Hunter at least a few hitters this first time around out of the bullpen. Washington said he will look to get Hunter in for multiple innings later in the week.

Washington also hopes to get utility infielder Andres Blanco back in a game in a few days. A valuable member of the Rangers' bench, Blanco suffered a mild sprain of his left index finger in the seventh. He injured the finger while diving to his left on a grounder and flipping the ball with his glove for a forceout at second base.

Blanco is day-to-day, but probably won't play again until Friday, Washington said.

Blanco, who hurt the same finger in Baltimore in August, said this was a similar injury but not as bad.

"It was almost 100 percent and I hit it again," Blanco said. "That's baseball. The good news is it's not broken. When it happened the first time, I came back and played the next day."

The Rangers ran into the kind of pitching they'll see in the playoffs on Tuesday with Cy Young contender Hernandez on the mound.

And, minus Kinsler, Elvis Andrus, Michael Young and Guerrero, they didn't stand a chance. Texas managed just one run on five hits against Hernandez. The only run the Rangers put across came in the bottom of the third on an RBI single by David Murphy that tied the game at 1-1.

Hernandez handled the Rangers' toughest hitter in the lineup, Nelson Cruz, twice with runners in scoring position. Cruz struck out in the bottom of the first with a runner at third, and he grounded into a fielder's choice in the third with runners on the corners.

"[Cruz] is a great hitter and I have to be careful," Hernandez said. "I concentrated on making good pitches. He hit a home run off me here and one more in Seattle. I said, 'That's not going to happen again.' So I made good pitches."

The Rangers were bitten by Justin Smoak, their former first baseman, for the second straight night. Smoak snapped a 1-1 tie with a two-run homer to center with one out in the top of the fourth.

Feldman lasted 4 1/3 innings, allowing three runs on five hits.

The Rangers' bullpen did put up a strong effort, led by Hunter and reliever Clay Rapada, who, pushing for a spot on the playoff roster, had two scoreless innings, allowing two hits. He threw 19 pitches, 15 of them for strikes.

Todd Wills is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.