SEATTLE — It’s likely lefty James Paxton held his place in the Mariners’ rotation Monday night with a strong performance in a 3-1 loss to the Cleveland Indians.
Paxton allowed just one earned run in six innings while matching a career-high with 10 strikeouts and occasionally hitting triple digits with his fastball.
"He’s changed his style of pitching a little bit," manager Scott Servais said. "He’s so used to pounding the fastball in to the right-handed hitter.
"But if he can get the ball away, at 98 miles an hour, with that kind of slider, now you really separate the player instead of leaving the hitter (to worry about) one zone."
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Make no mistake: Paxton was on a short leash after a rough outing last week against San Diego in his first start since being recalled from Triple-A Tacoma to replace an injured Felix Hernandez in the rotation.
Servais put Paxton on notice — not only privately but in his public comments — that it was time for the 27-year-old to start performing to his considerable potential. Part of that message was a demand to show some fire on the mound.
"Scott talked to me the day after I pitched the last time," Paxton acknowledged. "He just told me to let it come out. I’ve always kind of been an internalizer who didn’t really show a lot of emotion. He wanted me to show a little emotion."
More than that, Servais wanted better body language from Paxton. Some attitude. Something for his teammates to feed on, particularly when the other club was stirring to life.
"He’s at a point," Servais said, "where he has an opportunity to really step up and earn something and be a big part of what we’re trying to get done here. Sometimes, you have to pitch with a little chip on your shoulder."
It was that "chip" that effectively separated right-hander Nathan Karns from Paxton in their spring competition for the final spot in the rotation. Neither pitched particularly well in March, but the Mariners preferred Karns’ mound demeanor.
Paxton got the call when Hernandez went to the disabled list because of the way he pitched at Triple-A Tacoma: 4-1 with a 2.83 ERA over his final eight starts.
But when Paxton squandered a three-run lead at San Diego by giving six first-inning runs in his first start — and gave up eight runs and 10 hits overall in 3 2/3 innings — the Mariners began looking at alternatives.
That search is now on a temporary hold.
"The one thing with him is the velo doesn’t back off. You look up in the sixth inning, and we’re 95 to 100 pitches into it, and he’s still 98 miles an hour. There’s not many guys who can do that.
"I just liked what I saw in the secondary pitch. Now, he becomes a real pitcher."
Paxton’s next scheduled start is Saturday against Texas.
FELIX IN WALKING BOOT
Injured ace Felix Hernandez is now wearing a walking boot as a precaution and is scheduled to undergo another examination Thursday on his strained left calf.
"I’m walking funny," he said, "because I’m trying to protect the inside of my calf. I’m going crazy. I don’t know what to do."
Club officials had feared Hernandez suffered damage to his meniscus but are now confident the injury is limited to the calf. Even so, they now appear resigned that Hernandez won’t be making a quick return to the rotation.
PLANS FOR MARTIN
Center fielder Leonys Martin is slotted to test his recovery from a strained left hamstring Wednesday in a simulated game before heading Thursday to play in a rehab game for Tacoma.
If all goes well, Martin could be activated prior to Friday’s series opener against first-place Texas. He suffered the injury May 25 on a slide at second base against Oakland.
"I’m going to play one game (in Tacoma) and be back here Friday," Martin said. "I’ve been working, getting a lot treatment, working a lot in the training room. Everything feels normal now. I feel like it’s day one of spring training."
Shortstop Ketel Marte, one day after returning from the disabled list, was scratched from Tuesday’s lineup because of neck spasms. Shawn O’Malley started in Marte’s place.
Marte missed 14 games because of a sprained left thumb before going 1-for-3 Monday and scoring the Mariners’ only run in a 3-1 loss to the Indians.
Second baseman Robinson Cano and designated hitter Nelson Cruz each lost ground in the latest update in balloting to determine the American League starters in the All-Star Game.
Cano remained in third place but now trails Houston’s Jose Altuve by 356,782 votes. A week ago, Cano was 269,803 votes behind Altuve.
Cruz is still fifth in the DH balloting but now trails the leader, Boston’s David Ortiz, by 1,154766 votes. Cruz was 754,123 votes behind Ortiz in last week’s update.
No other Mariners are listed among the leaders at their positions. Major League Baseball only releases the votes totals for the top 15 outfielders and the top five players at all other positions.
Online balloting continues at MLB.com and all 30 club sites through 8:59 p.m. Pacific time on June 30. The All-Star Game is July 12 in San Diego.
Double-A Jackson outfielder Tyler O’Neill was picked as the Southern League’s player of the month for May after batting .349 in 28 games and leading the league with 38 hits, 18 extra-base hits, 45 total bases and 13 doubles.
The Mariners selected O’Neill, 20, in the third round of the 2013 draft.
O’Neill is batting .325 overall with a .392 on-base percentage and a .565 slugging percentage in 55 games. He has 10 homers and 42 RBIs.
MINOR STARS I
Just-promoted reliever Edwin Diaz is unlikely to be available, but Jackson will have six other players on the North Division club in the Southern League All-Star Game on June 21 in Pearl, Miss.
Diaz was selected to the game through a vote by Southern League managers, general managers, radio broadcasters and print media. He made his major-league debut Monday by pitching one scoreless inning against the Indians.
The Generals also placed O’Neill and outfielder Guillermo Heredia on the North club along with four other pitchers: Ryan Yarbrough, Dylan Unsworth, Emilio Pagan and Brett Ash.
MINOR STARS II
Lo-A Clinton has four players on the Western Division club for the Midwest League All-Star Game on June 21 at Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Right-hander Art Warren will be joined by LumberKings closer Darin Gilles, first baseman Dalton Kelly and third baseman Logan Taylor. Warren is 6-0 with a 1.59 ERA in 10 starts.
It was four years ago Wednesday — June 8, 2012 — that six Mariners pitchers combined to pitch a no-hitter in a 1-0 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers at Safeco Field.
Kevin Millwork worked the first six innings before exiting the game because of a strained right groin. Charlie Furbush, Stephen Pryor, Lucas Luetge, Brandon League and Tom Wilhelmsen completed the no-hitter.
The Mariners scored the game’s only run on Kyle Seager’s two-out RBI single in the seventh inning against Dodgers reliever Scott Elbert. Pryor got the victory despite retiring only one of three batters faced.
As he vowed, catcher Chris Iannetta took early work on handling throws to the plate prior to Tuesday’s game. Iannetta’s error Monday, when he failed to make a catch, contributed to two unearned runs in a 3-1 loss…lefty reliever Vidal Nuno has 21 strikeouts and one walk in his 21 appearances. His 21/1 strikeout-to-walk ratio leads all major-league relievers…third baseman Kyle Seager entered Tuesday’s game with a .362 career average against the Indians (50-for-138). That ranks second among active players with at least 100 career at-bats against Cleveland. Texas shortstop Elvis Andrus has a .373 average.
The Mariners and Indians continue their four-game series at 7:10 p.m. Wednesday at Safeco Field.
Right-hander Taijuan Walker (2-6 with a 3.94 ERA) will look to break a personal six-game skid when he faces Cleveland right-hander Carlos Carrasco (2-0, 3.00).
The game can be seen on Root Sports Northwest and heard on 710 ESPN.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners