DETROIT – James Paxton had to work a lot harder this time around than his first two forays onto a big-league mound.
The Detroit Tigers are running away with their division and showed Paxton on Thursday why there are few easy outs in their lineup. They waited him out, then took massive cuts when he threw pitches near the strike zone, eventually securing a 5-4 win with some late runs off the Mariners bullpen.
For Paxton, the no-decision in which he held the Tigers to three runs over five laborious innings was a welcome learning experience.
“Today was definitely a battle,’’ Paxton said. “I didn’t have my best stuff, and it was one of those games where I just had to grind it out. I just did my best to keep my team in the game and give them a chance.’’
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That he did after falling behind 3-1 by the third inning. Detroit got a solo homer from Torii Hunter and a run-scoring double by Victor Martinez in the first inning, then saw Paxton walk home a run on four pitches in the third.
Paxton walked four batters — two intentionally — and also surrendered two doubles to Prince Fielder. But he held the Tigers from there and was actually given a 4-3 lead in the fifth when Dustin Ackley lined a three-run homer off onetime Mariners starter Doug Fister.
But the Tigers took the lead for good in the seventh when Fielder launched a bloop single to right field to tie it off Charlie Furbush — traded to Seattle for Fister two years ago. Fielder then scored all the way from first for the second time in the game on a Martinez double, called safe at home despite catcher Mike Zunino appearing to tag him out in time.
“I know I got him, that’s without a question,’’ Zunino said. “But it’s one of those where he (the umpire) said he got his foot in there. So, it’s one of those where he gets the final say-so.’’
The crowd of 38,431 at Comerica Park saw the Tigers hand the Mariners their third loss in the four-game series. Seattle fell to 67-86, losing for the 10th time in 12 games.
Ackley welcomed the home run in a year in which he struggled offensively in the first half.
“The last several weeks, the way I’ve felt, I know that it feels right when I’m up at the plate,’’ he said. “I think that gives me great confidence going into next year. Just to know what I’m capable of doing. I’m not just some singles hitter, some guy who’s just going to try to hit balls on the ground or whatever.
“I think I’m capable of doing a lit more than that.’’
Paxton was feeling confident as well, knowing he can limit damage on days his best stuff isn’t working.
“You really just have to bear down and try to make pitches,’’ he said. “You’re not going to make all of them because you don’t have your stuff. You’ve just got to try to make them at the right time and get people out.’’
Mariners manager Eric Wedge keeps alluding to the trials of his younger team, which has appeared largely overmatched at times by contending squads this month.
“I’m very appreciative of the way these guys are fighting and stepping up to these teams at this time of year,’’ he said. “…The experience they’re gaining here is invaluable.’’
• Felix Hernandez is scheduled to pitch Sunday in Anaheim after throwing a 58-pitch bullpen session before Thursday’s game. Hernandez hasn’t pitched since being pulled from a game more than two weeks ago with a sore oblique muscle.
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @gbakermariners