James Paxton pitches eight scoreless innings, allowing five hits, in a 5-0 victory over the Red Sox at Safeco Field.
There has never been any doubt about James Paxton’s singular talent, or his potential.
It was only eight starts into his career that Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon felt confident enough in what he’d seen from Paxton — and what he saw on the horizon — to declare, “I think this kid has greatness written all over him.”
Paxton, the Mariners’ 26-year-old starting pitcher, has always had “the stuff” — the power fastball and off-speed pitches. But two problems have slowed Paxton’s rise. One has been injuries. The other has been his command, his trust, in his fastball.
Mariners @ Baltimore, 4:05 p.m., ROOT Sports
What Paxton showed against the Red Sox on Sunday was his raw talent come to life, and he looked every bit as good as McClendon has projected in shutting down Boston for a 5-0 Mariners win.
Paxton pitched eight scoreless innings, stretching his career-high streak of consecutive scoreless innings to 20. He lowered his ERA to 3.59 after it soared to 6.18 less than two weeks ago. He found himself in trouble only twice, and both times quickly and decisively emerged unscathed.
McClendon said it was the best he has seen from Paxton this season. Catcher Mike Zunino agreed. “By far,” Zunino said.
What impressed McClendon and Zunino was Paxton’s fastball command. He challenged hitters with that funky delivery that looks like a catapult reaching back and whipping a fastball at 97 miles per hour into the catcher’s glove.
“Command the fastball and you’re going to win and it’s going to make everything else better,” McClendon said. “And when you command a 98-mile-per-hour fastball, it’s going to make everything special. I thought you saw that today.”
A month ago, after allowing seven runs in just 22/3 innings, Paxton raised the idea that the root of his problems rested with his mechanics. McClendon sharply brushed off that idea then, and did so again Sunday after Paxton turned in his fourth straight start of six-plus innings with two runs or less.
“It has nothing to do with mechanics,” McClendon said. “It has everything to do with commanding their fastball and believing in it.”
Paxton’s interpretation: “Just go after guys and make them prove they can hit the fastball. That’s what I did.”
Paxton threw 71 of his 105 pitches for strikes, and Zunino said one difference from earlier this season is that Paxton didn’t nibble on the outer-thirds of the plate. He trusted that if he worked both halves of the plate, his pitches would be good enough to finish the job.
“The more he can trust it,” said Zunino, who had a two-out RBI single, “the better he will be.”
Paxton also got the run support that has lately eluded the Mariners. Brad Miller hit his third home run in two games, all solo shots, in the fifth inning. Kyle Seager delivered the dagger with a two-run homer in the eighth inning. And the Mariners scored more than two runs for the first time in five games and finished the homestand 6-3.
The next step for Paxton is long-term consistency, both with his on-field production and his health. He was injured during spring training this year, and McClendon said he is only now finding his groove.
But with Paxton settling in, and with Seattle’s other starters doing the same, the rotation is beginning to look like the group McClendon thinks sets the Mariners apart in the American League West, as long as the offense delivers like Sunday.
“I like our rotation one through five,” McClendon said the other night, even before Paxton looked so sharp. “It gives us a good chance every game. From a manager’s standpoint, that’s a good feeling.”
|A strong turnaround|
|Mariners starting pitcher James Paxton pitched eight scoreless innings Sunday, stretching his streak of scoreless innings to 20. A look at his season|
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