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Catchers take center stage as A’s host Mariners

Two of the hottest-hitting catchers in the American League likely will take square off once again Saturday when Cal Raleigh and the Seattle Mariners visit Sean Murphy and the Oakland Athletics.

Both young catchers had a single and scored in Friday’s series opener, which was won 10-2 by the Mariners. Raleigh also walked twice, Murphy once.

Raleigh’s hit gave him at least one in seven of his past nine games. Counting two reserve efforts, he’s gone 9-for-31 (.290) with three homers and four RBIs in that span.

The run has improved his average 11 points to .210, while also padding his major league-leading home run total among catchers. He now has 18.

The 25-year-old had just two homers in 47 games as a rookie last season.

“I don’t think I would’ve believed you,” Raleigh responded when asked what his reaction would have been if he were told before the season that he’d lead all catchers in homers in mid-August.

“I always have that belief in myself and I have a really good system around me, people that care about me, people will help me. Credit goes to them, really.”

If he gets Saturday’s start, he would get another crack at A’s right-hander James Kaprielian (3-7, 4.33 ERA), against whom he hit his second big-league homer last September.

The two also went head-to-head in May and June, when Raleigh went 1-for-2 with a single, a walk and a hit by pitch.

Kaprielian will be seeing the Mariners for the fourth time this season, having pitched the A’s to a pair of wins in Seattle but to an 8-2 home defeat in June. He’s 2-1 with a 5.40 ERA in eight games, including five starts, in his career against the Mariners.

The 28-year-old lost his past two starts to the Los Angeles Angels and Texas Rangers, games in which he got a total of two runs of support.

Right-hander Logan Gilbert (10-5, 3.51) is the scheduled starter for the Mariners, who will take a four-game winning streak into Saturday’s rematch.

Gilbert will be facing the A’s for the second time this year. He beat them 8-6 at home in June, allowing four runs in six innings.

He’s never lost in five career starts against the A’s, going 1-0 with a 4.44 ERA.

The 25-year-old is winless in his last seven starts overall, during which his ERA has gone up from 2.61 to 3.51.

Gilbert has dominated Murphy in their all-time meetings, holding him without a hit in seven at-bats with two strikeouts.

Even with the promotion of highly regarded prospect Shea Langeliers, who has been primarily a catcher in his career, Murphy has started the A’s past five games, catching four of them. He has seven hits, including three homers, in those contests.

His 16 homers rank third to Raleigh’s 18 among American League catchers.

Despite the emergence of Langeliers, A’s manager Mark Kotsay insists his club needs Murphy’s leadership.

“The catching position is demanding,” the first-year skipper insisted. “He continues to perform. He’s worked really hard with his body, with being physically prepared for the season, and it’s showing.”

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