Robinson Cano hit three home runs to lead the Mariners to a 12-8 win over the Cubs Sunday, offsetting a shaky performance by Seattle starting pitcher James Paxton.
Mariners 12, Cubs 9 at Sloan Park, Mesa
James Paxton knew his start Sunday in Mesa against the Cubs might have been the last shot he’d have this spring to convince the Mariners he deserves a place in the team’s Opening Day rotation.
He just wishes he’d have given it his best shot.
Instead, a pitcher once regarded as one of the bright lights of the team’s future left Mesa with only an uncertain one after allowing seven runs on nine hits in four innings with three walks and no strikeouts, raising his spring earned run average to 10.80.
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Paxton didn’t get the loss only because the hot-hitting Mariners continued to surge and pulled out a 12-9 win over the Cubs, led by three home runs by Robinson Cano, giving him six for the spring.
“A pretty special day,’’ manager Scott Servais said of Cano, who is showing no effects from offseason double hernia surgery.
Cano showed again that he may be back to being the player the Mariners were hoping to get when they signed him to a 10-year contract worth $240 million prior to the 2014 season was undoubtedly the feel-good takeaway from this game.
But in the short-term, Paxton’s performance left only more questions about where he may be headed.
The big lefty is battling with Nathan Karns for the fifth spot in the rotation, and if Karns shows much of anything on Monday in his start against Kansas City, that might be enough for the Mariners to make a decision.
“Obviously it’s what the coaches think that matters,’’ said the 27-year-old Paxton. “But I’ve kind of been that guy who doesn’t get the numbers in spring training kind of my whole career (he had a 7.84 ERA in the spring a year ago). So I’m not going to let this start kind of bother me. Just keep on working and get myself ready for the season and just get ready to go.’’
That season could be with Class AAA Tacoma. A new Mariners administration led by general manager Jerry Dipoto and manager Scott Servais don’t have the past history with Paxton and might not be as willing to shrug off a shaky spring.
“There’s nothing I can do about that,’’ Paxton said. “I just have to try and focus on what I can control and let them make their decisions. They are going to do what they want to do.’’
Paxton’s troubles started with the first batter of the game. Dexter Fowler hit a leadoff homer to foreshadow the slugfest that was to come in a game that featured a combined seven balls leaving the yard.
He settled down a little from there, and had a chance to at least get a win when handed a 7-1 lead heading into the bottom of the third.
But Paxton couldn’t hold it, allowing homers to Jason Heyward and Addison Russell as the Cubs scored five to get right back in the game and eventually tie it.
Paxton said he had some troubles with the mound, saying he fell into a hole that led to a hanging curve that Heyward blasted for a two-run shot.
And he also noted that runs weren’t hard to come by on particularly warm Arizona afternoon.
“It’s one of those days I would have liked to have kept the ball down better and kept it on the ground a little bit more on a day like this,’’ he said.
What’s not an issue is his health.
Paxton’s three-year Mariner career has featured a steady stream of frustrating ailments that have limited him to just 30 starts.
Paxton, though, said he felt just fine after throwing 87 pitches in four innings, other than looking at all the crooked numbers on the scoreboard.
“My bullpens have been really good,’’ Paxton said. “I’m feeling great. I feel like I’m really close to being right there. I think that come time the season starts here in a week I think I’ll be ready to rock and roll.’’
Servais was non-committal about Paxton afterward, saying he thought in some ways Paxton may have looked better than he did in allowing seven earned runs on March 17.
“I thought his stuff was pretty good early in the game,’’ Servais said, adding that Paxton then “elevated some balls and the home run obviously hurt him today. Not his finest outing but I did think his stuff was better today.’’
Servais said on Saturday that the battle between Paxton and Karns was “very close.’’ Karns, though, has a real chance to create some distance on Monday, which could then lead only to the decision of what to do with Paxton. He has minor league options, so he could be sent to Tacoma to be a starter rather than kept in Seattle in long relief. Servais has noted that having either Paxton or Karns handle long relief could hamstring the rest of the bullpen some in not allowing anyone else to handle that role, which could create a problem if the team then needed Paxton or Karns to start and no one else is stretched out.
*** The game was delayed for about 10 minutes in the third inning when bees descended on the outfield, causing Heyward to leap onto the center field fence to seek refuge. The bees then stayed in left field for a little while causing the Cubs to move to share the Mariner bullpen in right field.
The bees were eventually shooed away and the game continued without incident.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Robinson Cano hit home runs to right, center and left field in one of the more impressive hitting performances this spring. He also threw in a walk and a single in finishing 4-4 with seven runs batted in and four runs scored. Cano homered in the first and second innings off Chicago starter Jason Hammel — first to right field and then to left — and then again in the eighth off Trevor Cahill to center.
“Oh my God, Robinson Cano. Wow,’’ manager Scott Servais in his opening words to the media.
The Mariners will play a 1:10 p.m. game against the Royals at Peoria Stadium. Right-hander Nathan Karns gets the start as he makes his bid for the fifth spot in the rotation. Right-hander Kris Medlen is expected to start for the Royals. The game will be televised live on ROOT Sports and broadcast live on ESPN 710 Seattle.