James Paxton settles down after a shaky first inning and Willie Bloomquist drives in two runs with a two-out double to help the Mariners win their second straight in Toronto, 3-2.
TORONTO — The game appeared to be spiraling out of control in the first inning. James Paxton had given up a leadoff double to Josh Donaldson and then issued a walk to Jose Bautista, which included a wild pitch on ball four that moved Donaldson to third base.
After throwing a first-pitch ball to Edwin Encarnacion, manager Lloyd McClendon hopped up from the dugout and went to the mound to discuss things with his starting pitcher. It’s safe to say it wasn’t to talk about pitching mechanics or possible wedding gift ideas.
The pep talk/lecture worked.
Mariners @ Toronto, 10:07 a.m., ROOT Sports
Paxton got out of the inning allowing just the one run, and he’d only allow one more, while his teammates provided just enough offense for the Mariners to prevail, 3-2, over the Blue Jays on Saturday afternoon.
None of the people in the meeting — McClendon, Paxton, catcher Mike Zunino or the infielders — would discuss what was specifically said.
“There were a lot of factors that went into me going out there,” McClendon said. “Obviously, he’s back home in his home country and the last time he was here, things sped up on him and he tried to do a little too much. So we just wanted to slow him down.”
At the end of last season, when the Mariners were in the midst of a five-game losing streak, Paxton, who grew up in British Columbia, made his first start in the Rogers Centre. It was a not a great homecoming. He lasted just 22/3 innings, giving up nine runs (eight earned) on seven hits with six walks and a strikeout in a 14-4 loss.
McClendon wasn’t about to sit through a repeat performance, so he tried to get his pitcher refocused.
“Like most young pitchers, you worry about that guy on third and then you have a big inning,” McClendon said. “My message to him was simple: ‘Don’t worry about the guy on third. Get outs. If he scores, he scores and we’ll come back from that.’”
The message seemed to work. Donaldson scored moments later on a sac fly from Encarnacion, but Paxton was able to work his way out of the inning without further damage. After that, he found some rhythm, allowing just one more run on two hits over the next five innings.
“It was about the third inning where I started to feel a little better and the ball started going where I wanted it go,” Paxton said.
It helped that the Mariners answered the run immediately and later gave him a lead.
Kyle Seager tied the score in the top of the second, pulling a fastball into the right field seats off Blue Jays starter Mark Buerhle for his sixth homer of the year.
Seattle took the lead for good in the third inning from an unlikely source.
Much to the dismay of those on social media, Willie Bloomquist got the start in right field and was batting second in the lineup.
“Willie hits this guy really well,” McClendon said before the game.
Indeed, Bloomquist came into the game batting .455 (20 for 44) with eight doubles and 1.16 OPS against Buerhle in his career. To be fair, most of that success came in 2009-10 when Bloomquist was with the Royals and Buerhle was with the White Sox.
With runners on first and second and two outs, Bloomquist hammered a ball into the left-center gap that missed being a homer by about a foot, hitting off the wall. It went for a double and both runners scored.
“To be perfectly honest, I thought I got enough of it when I first hit it,” he said. “I don’t hit too many, but when I hit them I usually have an idea of when they are going to go. It was good to get those two runs in. It turned out to be really big. It felt great.”
Bloomquist’s average dropped to just .437 against Buerhle after going 1 for 4.
“He doesn’t throw anything straight,” Bloomquist said. “You have to get out of your head right away. Everything is going to be moving. For me, it’s pick a half of the plate and go. I was looking middle-in and got it. Regardless of my personal numbers off of him, he’s a guy you just love competing against because you know he’s coming after you.”
Couple that hit with a throwing assist to get Danny Valencia trying to stretch a single into a double in the fourth inning and McClendon was feeling vindicated with his decision. After Justin Ruggiano couldn’t come up with a diving grab on the soft looper, Bloomquist was right there waiting for the hop off the turf. He fired to second to get Valencia easily.
“How about that play in right field?” McClendon said. “I told (Nelson) Cruz we have a new power-hitting right fielder.”
That play from Bloomquist prevented the Blue Jays from tying the score, because the next batter, Chris Colabello, belted a home run to left field off Paxton. But thanks to Bloomquist it was only a solo.
It wasn’t the only time Paxton got some help from his defense. Seager robbed Jose Bautista of a likely double in the third inning with a diving catch on a line drive. And after Paxton had walked the first two batters of the sixth, he was able to get out of it when Robinson Cano made a leaping stab on a line drive and flipped the ball to second for the double play.
Paxton was done after six innings, giving up the two runs on four hits with three walks and four strikeouts.
McClendon turned it over to his bullpen. Tom Wilhelmsen worked a scoreless seventh inning, working around a leadoff walk.
Carson Smith was brilliant in the eighth, retiring three straight all-stars — Donaldson (strikeout), Bautista (flyout to center) and Encarnacion (ground out to third).
And after allowing base runners in his last six outings, closer Fernando Rodney worked a 1-2-3 ninth inning to notch his 12 save in 13 chances.