An upbeat James Paxton stood near a table stacked with pizzas, the Tacoma Rainiers’ between-game feast during their doubleheader against El Paso on Saturday night at Cheney Stadium.
Tacoma won the first game, 4-3, thanks to two runs in the bottom of the sixth (it was a seven-inning game, as was the second, which El Paso won, 8-2). But that’s not what had Paxton saying positive things about his performance.
This was the first start of Paxton’s minor league rehabilitation assignment, and the first time the left-hander has pitched in a game since he strained a muscle in his back during an April 8 start against the Los Angeles Angels.
And though Saturday’s outing lasted only three innings and 62 pitches (38 strikes)— his limit was 75, which he achieved by throwing a brief bullpen session after leaving the game — Paxton said he “took a step forward” and felt fine about the way he threw the ball.
“I felt pretty good,” Paxton said. “I left some pitches out over the middle of the plate, and guys got some good wood on them. I think it was good. Felt like the ball was coming out pretty well. Still got a few things to work on, get some timing back and stuff, but it was pretty good.”
The 24-year-old allowed four hits and three runs (two earned), walked two batters and struck out five. Three of those hits were doubles. Paxton said he needs to clean up his location.
“My evaluation was he did a nice job with it,” Rainiers manager Roy Howell said. “Each inning, he progressed a little bit more, threw the ball a little sharper, a little harder. I guess the tell is how he feels tomorrow. But I think he should be pleased with his outing, for sure.”
To that end, Paxton, who allowed only three runs over 12 innings in his only two starts for the Mariners this season, said he’s “getting really close” to feeling 100 percent.
“I feel like it’s one tick away with that timing, getting that back, everything firing at the right time,” he said. “I think it’s just really close right now.”
He’ll meet Sunday with Mariners brass at Safeco Field, he said, and they will determine what’s next.
Rainiers shortstop Gabriel Noriega hit a two-run home run in the first game and the decisive sacrifice fly in the bottom of the sixth to score Jesus Montero.
In the second game, El Paso scored two runs in the first inning, three more in the fourth thanks to a Jace Peterson homer, then another three in the seventh off reliever Logan Bawcom.
Mariners outfielder Logan Morrison, in his second game at Tacoma since beginning a rehab stint (hamstring), was 1-for-3 in the first game and didn’t play in the second. Rainiers third baseman Leury Bonilla strained his Achilles while running the bases in the first game and didn’t play in the second. He’s day-to-day, Howell said.
Tacoma’s five-game series against El Paso continues at 1:35 p.m Sunday. Left-hander James Gillheeney (1-4, 8.41 ERA) is scheduled to pitch for the Rainiers against left-hander Jason Lane (4-4, 4.05). The game will air on 850-AM.