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Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon had strong praise for 25-year-old starting pitcher James Paxton.

Paxton has made just eight career starts in the major leagues, including only four this season because of injuries. But McClendon said he has seen enough from Paxton to know he could be a difference-maker as the Mariners push toward the playoffs.

“I think this kid has greatness written all over him,” McClendon said. “He just needs to stay healthy.”

McClendon also said Paxton could be the “glue” for the Mariners’ rotation. The fifth spot in the starting rotation hasn’t given the Mariners much this season, and McClendon views Paxton as a quality bridge between the back end of the rotation and the team’s three-headed monster of Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and Chris Young.

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“He can keep a roll going for us,” McClendon said. “He can stretch those winning streaks out. If you look at our rotation throughout the year, the guy in the five hole has not been very successful. It’s been patchwork. This guy can patch it, and it doesn’t come loose.”

The day before, McClendon said Paxton was “like a free-agent signing” for the Mariners late in the season and added that he thought Paxton was “going to be special for us down the stretch.”

Paxton has a 2.38 ERA in four starts, and he looked crisp in his most recent outing Saturday against the White Sox. He allowed just one run in 61/3 innings against the White Sox in only his second start since returning from the disabled list with a lat injury.

Paxton hasn’t allowed more than three earned runs in any of his four starts this season, and he has struck out at least four batters in each start.

“You talk to other players on other teams that have faced him, I’m sure they were glad that he was down,” McClendon said. “Because he can really shut down a game. He can get it to 99 and it’s effortless. He’s (6 feet 4), and he has that Kershaw over-the-top (delivery) where you just don’t see it. It’s a different angle, and it’s very difficult on hitters.”


Roenis Elias is scheduled to start for the Mariners on Monday in the series opener against the Phillies. He pitched five no-hit innings and had six strikeouts for Class AAA Tacoma on Wednesday.

• Outfielder Michael Saunders’ wife gave birth to a baby boy. McClendon said he hoped Saunders would return from being with his wife to continue his rehab assignment with Class AAA Tacoma on Thursday. He also said Saunders (strained oblique) needed more at-bats in the minors before he could rejoin the Mariners.

“He texted me the other day and said, ‘I’m ready.’ I said, ‘Good. Keep playing,’ ” McClendon said.

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