The big lefty was threw 80 pitches vs. the White Sox advanced Class A team at the Mariners complex.

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PEORIA, Ariz. — In front of a small group of fans on Field 3 of the Mariners’ practice diamonds and facing players ranging from age 19-22, Mariners lefty James Paxton had his longest outing of the spring, throwing 4 2/3 innings and 80 pitches against the White Sox Advanced Class A team. He gave up two runs on three hits with two walks and eight strikeouts in the 19 batters he faced.

Why was Paxton pitching there?

With the Mariners facing the Rangers — an American League West rival — in Surprise on Sunday, the organization chose not to start Paxton in the Cactus League game. They didn’t want to give Texas hitters an extra opportunity to see him before the regular season. Instead, Paxton threw in a minor league game. The Mariners will do the same thing with lefty Drew Smyly on Tuesday instead of having him face the A’s and for right-hander Yovani Gallardo on Wednesday to avoid throwing against the Angels. It’s a common practice by many teams.

With Paxton facing free-swinging minor leaguers, who are eager to get hits off a big league pitcher, the Mariners decided to have him work on a few things instead of playing into their aggression.

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“Today I went out with the plan to work on my offspeed more, so we were throwing more offspeed stuff,” he said. “I definitely could have thrown more fastballs today, but we wanted to work on the curveball and the cutter and throwing them behind in counts. I did a good job of working that stuff in today. And that was good.”

Paxton knows that the cutter is a big pitch for him. It’s one of the more effective pitches in his repertoire.

“We threw the cutter early in the counts and as we got later in the game, we switched and were going to it with two strikes,” he said.

After feeling out of sorts with his command in his previous outing, Paxton was able to get some consistency and command while pushing his pitch limit.

“I’m feeling really good,” he said. “I threw really good changeups, good curveballs. I want to work on my fastball up. I was getting it too high. I’d like to get lower it to induce more swings . I feel really good where I’m at and I’m right where I should be. I did feel better than last time as far as my stuff goes and my body just feeling better.”