The big lefty didn’t allow a run for the third consecutive start, giving up just two hits over eight innings and striking out nine. The Mariners won back-to-back games for the first time this season, blanking Texas 5-0.
It took a little time, some tribulation, a few disabled-list stints, the use of a fake nail and fingernail hardener, a modification of his arm slot, the harnessing of a blistering high-90s fastball, refining his explosive breaking pitches and developing an aggressive streak commensurate with his talent.
But it seems like the James Paxton that the Mariners and their fans once dreamily projected following his handful of brilliant outings in September of 2013 has finally arrived in April of 2017.
It’s proving to be worth the wait.
Texas @ Mariners, 1:10 p.m., ROOT Sports
The big left-hander delivered his third straight scoreless outing of the season on Saturday night, shutting down the Rangers for eight innings and leading the Mariners to an easy 5-0 win.
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For the first time this season, Seattle (4-8) has won back-to-back games and it guarantees the team’s first series win.
“I can’t say enough about what Pax did tonight and the start that he’s off to this year,” manager Scott Servais said. “We had a feeling that his could be his breakout year after what we saw last year.”
That last sentence was uttered more than once by the two managers before Servais, and they never got to see it happen.
But all the signs are pointing to this being very real.
“I’m just going out there and giving everything I got,” Paxton said.
Yeah, but he did that before.
“Well, I just found a better way to do it better, I guess,” he said, grinning.
There aren’t many pitchers in baseball doing it better than Paxton in the first weeks of the season.
He dominated the Rangers, allowing just two hits while striking out nine and walking just one batter — his first of the game — to improve to 2-0.
Paxton carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning before Joey Gallo broke up the bid with a one-out double into right field. Paxton’s only other hit allowed came with one out in the eighth inning.
“I knew there hadn’t been any hits yet,” Paxton said. “I’d been in the full windup since the first inning after the walk. I was aware of it.”
Gallo advanced to third on a wild pitch. But he stayed there. Paxton found an extra gear on his stuff, striking out Delino Deshields and getting Carlos Gomez to pop up a drag bunt to Kyle Seager at third.
“I needed it right there,” Paxton said. “At that point, it was still 0-0. It was a big run to keep off the board there.”
Over the course of his 114 pitches (79 strikes), he never allowed much in the way of hard contact. Using a fastball that sat around 97 mph and nasty breaking pitches, Rangers hitters looked uncomfortable and out of sorts.
“He’s got such good stuff (on the fastball),” Seager said. “He’s throwing the breaking ball for strikes. He’s got the little cutter/slider working. It’s a really, really uncomfortable at-bat.”
But really, all hitters have looked that way this season. Paxton hasn’t allowed a run in 21 innings, which broke a record of 172/3 scoreless innings to start a season held by reliever Mark Lowe.
After squandering scoring opportunities and stranding base runners — yes, you’ve read that before — in the second, third and fifth innings against Rangers starter Andrew Cashner, the Mariners finally came through in the sixth inning.
With one out, Seattle loaded the bases on a Mitch Haniger single, a botched double-play attempt that allowed Robinson Cano to reach on a fielder’s choice and a walk from Nelson Cruz.
Rangers manager Jeff Bannister had lefty specialist Alex Claudio warm and ready in the bullpen, but he opted to stay with Cashner to face Seager.
A notorious Rangers killer, Seager added to that reputation, lacing a single through the right side on a 3-2 changeup, driving in two runs.
“The way Paxton was throwing, you felt like if we get one run, we’ll be in good shape,” Seager said. “A run would’ve felt like three there.”
Following the Seager hit, Bannister went to his bullpen, bringing in right-hander Mike Hauschild to face Taylor Motter.
Motter sat on an 0-1 breaking ball, hammering it deep into left field off the stairs leading down into the bullpen area, making it 5-0.
“He left it up a little bit and I just got barrel to it,” Motter said.
That was all Paxton would need.
As he left the mound following his eighth scoreless inning, he received a standing ovation from the crowd of 34,927.
“The goal is to get back to winning series,” Servais said. “We got this one, hopefully we can finish it off tomorrow.”