The Mariners' last remaining front-end starter left Thursday night's game after grimacing and pointing to his chest. He will be evaluated Friday.
On his 107th pitch, Mariners starter James Paxton let go of the ball, rolled his shoulders and grimaced. That caught the attention of catcher Mike Zunino, who called for the trainers, who looked at Paxton, who pointed to his chest before leaving with a left pectoral strain.
That, without any question, is the most important story to emerge from Thursday’s 6-3 loss to the Angels. Neither Paxton nor Mariners manager Scott Servais knew if Paxton would have to go on the disabled list.
Paxton said he didn’t feel any “pop,” that it was more like a cramp.
“It was probably the last three pitches,” Paxton said. “I thought it was just a little cramp, and I would be able to shake it out. But it just kind of kept on, and when I was playing with it, that’s when Mike came out. I was talking about it and he called out the trainers because we didn’t want to take any chances.”
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He added, “Right now, as I’m just standing here, I don’t feel anything. It’s just when I try to strengthen that pec muscle, it’s a little sore. So we’ll get it checked out tomorrow and hopefully it’s nothing serious. Obviously, I’m hoping not to miss any time.”
Paxton is not only the Mariners’ ace, a pitcher receiving consideration as a Cy Young candidate. He is the one reliable starter in the Mariners’ decimated rotation and one of the players the Mariners can least afford to lose.
“It hurts,” Servais said. “He’s been our guy. He’s been awesome. He really has. Don’t want to get too far ahead of it, but hopefully, fingers crossed, he’s not going to miss too much time.”
Against Kole Calhoun in the seventh inning, Paxton rolled his shoulders and grimaced after throwing his 107th pitch. Servais said Paxton’s pitch limit is 110 pitches, so Calhoun was likely Paxton’s final batter, “which hurts even worse,” Servais said.
“He was throwing the ball fine and the velocity was there,” Servais said. “Everything was good. There was nothing leading up to that that made me think there was any issues at all. I saw him shaking his arm a little bit, and that’s why Zunino went out there and called us out. I feel bad for him. Hopefully he’s not down too long.”
Said Paxton, “I’m hoping I wake up tomorrow, and it feels fine. But I just don’t know. We’ll have to reevaluate tomorrow and see what happens.”
Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and Drew Smyly are out with injuries. Ariel Miranda is struggling. Yovani Gallardo is back in the rotation after already being demoted.
Not only that but Paxton just strung together his most dominant stretch of the season. In his last seven starts, Paxton’s ERA is 1.59, and his own fan section had even formed in the left-field bleachers named, appropriately for the Canadian Paxton, The Maple Grove. Fans chanted “eh, eh, eh” anytime Paxton had two strikes.
It was clearly early on Thursday that Paxton wasn’t quite that sharp. He allowed a solo home run to C.J. Cron to start the second inning. He also allowed a mammoth two-run home run to Andrelton Simmons in the fourth inning, although in between Paxton struck out the side in the third inning.
Paxton hadn’t allowed a home run since the end of June, and it was the first time all season that Paxton had allowed multiple home runs in a game.
“I felt a little bit off but nothing crazy, nothing unusual,” Paxton said. “I made some mistakes, and they made me pay early with the home runs.”
One of the marks of an ace, however, is the ability to both keep his team in the game while going deep into the game even on those nights when everything isn’t clicking.
His final line: three runs, five hits, six strikeouts in 61/3 innings, but all of that was an afterthought to Paxton’s health.
“Hopefully it’s nothing bad,” Paxton said.