In his first start in nearly a month, Paxton allows only three hits and the Mariners blank visiting Colorado, 5-0.
Mariners manager Scott Servais had but modest ambitions for James Paxton, making his first start in nearly a month.
“My expectations are very tempered by the fact that I don’t expect him to go out there and shut somebody out, give up two hits and punch out eight or 10,” Servais said before the game.
OK, those were the expectations.
Colorado @ Mariners, 12:40 p.m., ROOT Sports
But these were the results: three hits, six strikeouts in 51/3 innings in the Mariners’ 5-0 win Wednesday against the Rockies.
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“Played that out perfectly, didn’t I?” Servais joked.
That’s four straight wins for the Mariners, including three straight against the first-place Rockies, but the night belonged to Paxton.
It did from the moment the Mariners announced him as the starter.
The Mariners are in desperate need of starting pitching. Injuries have softened their rotation, leaving journeymen and call-ups to fill in, and before his injury, Paxton was pitching like the staff ace.
For that very reason, Paxton is as important as anyone in determining what kind of season the Mariners have. Servais said as much after watching Paxton obliterate his pregame expectations.
“Obviously, before he got hurt, you could just see a different guy out there,” Servais said. “His confidence was growing, and he’s turned into a top-of-the-rotation stud. It’s great for our club. I think everybody felt it tonight when he took the mound. Dominant starting pitching does so much for your team. It just lifts everybody’s spirits. Guys offensively relax, they have good at-bats.”
Still, Servais was cautious. Paxton hadn’t pitched since May 2 because of a forearm strain, so a little rust was expected, even normal.
All Servais wanted to see was Paxton temper his adrenaline, throw strikes, keep the game moving, hopefully get through five or six innings.
In the bullpen before the game, catcher Mike Zunino thought Paxton looked good, his fastball had some pop to it. But after the first inning, in which Paxton hit 98 mph on his third pitch, Zunino walked back to the dugout surprised and impressed.
“Unbelievable,” Zunino said. “It’s like he didn’t miss a beat.”
Paxton retired the first eight batters he faced. He threw strikes on 28 of his first 32 pitches, an impressive ratio any time but even more so considering his layoff. And he didn’t walk anyone.
“He just attacks,” Servais said. “He just goes after. He has tremendous confidence in his stuff, and he should because it’s really, really good. It’s not going to be that good every night, I do understand that. But for what we were looking for tonight, it couldn’t have gone any better.”
For Servais, the most impressive part wasn’t that Paxton’s fastball regularly touched 98 mph. It was where he located that and his other pitches.
“His ability to land his secondary pitches and his command of the fastball was much more than we expected,” Servais said. “Even Zunino said, ‘Wow, this is really good.’ ”
The Mariners gave Paxton support with three runs in the second inning — two on a Danny Valencia double and another on a double from Zunino, who had his third straight multi-hit game.
Paxton gave up one hit through five innings — and that one hit was a soft infield single in the third inning. He didn’t give up another hit until the sixth inning, when he allowed back-to-back singles with one out.
At that point, Servais pulled him. Paxton threw 74 pitches and said he didn’t feel fatigued.
“Can’t say enough about what it means to have Paxton back,” Servais said. “He gave us more tonight than I think we expected.”
He walked off the field to a standing ovation, a gesture for his performance as much as his presence; it was just good that he was back. Paxton waved his glove and tipped his cap.
“It was really nice to just hop back out and feel that comfortable again on the mound,” Paxton said.