The Big Maple is back and what a lift! It’s like he never left.
James Paxton returned Wednesday from four weeks on the disabled list and pitched 5 1/3 scoreless innings as the Mariners stretched their winning streak to four games with a 5-0 victory over Colorado at Safeco Field.
"It’s like he didn’t miss a beat," catcher Mike Zunino said. "His fastball location was great. The ball was coming out good (before the game) in the pen, but when he came out throwing 96, 98 (mph), I was impressed."
Danny Valencia’s two-run double highlighted a three-run second inning against Rockies right-hander Antonio Senzatela, which that provided all the support necessary for Paxton and three relievers.
"Dominant starting pitching does so much for your team," manager Scott Servais said. "It just lifts everybody’s spirits. Guys, offensively, relax and have good at-bats."
Paxton (4-0) retired 16 of the first 17 batters before exiting to loud cheers after yielding successive one-out singles in the sixth inning. He struck out six and walked none in throwing 56 of 72 pitches for strikes.
"Healthy," Paxton said, as economical with his words as he was with his pitches. "Felt great. It’s good to be back out there. I felt pretty good all the way through."
Paxton said he didn’t feel fatigued in the sixth but noted, "I think they just didn’t want me to pitch too many stressful pitches there with guys on base."
Steve Cishek ended the sixth-inning threat by inducing two popups, which left Paxton with a clean line that lowered his ERA to 1.26. Cishek then worked a one-two-three seventh inning.
James Pazos worked around an error in the eighth inning before Nick Vincent closed out a four-hit shutout. Senzatela gave up four runs in five innings and suffered just his second loss in nine decisions.
But Paxton was the story.
"Before he got hurt," Servais said, "you could see a different guy out there. Confidence was growing. He’s turned into a top-of-the-rotation stud. It’s great for out club. Everybody felt it tonight when he took the mound."
Paxton was diagnosed with strained forearm muscle after a May 2 start against the Los Angeles Angels. Even with his return, the Mariners still have three of their five projected starting pitchers on the disabled list.
Club officials are hoping Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and Drew Smyly might all return to active duty at some point in June.
"I can’t say enough about what it means to have Paxton back," Servais said. "He gave us more tonight than I think we expected having not pitched in about a month."
The Mariners, as they did Tuesday, struck for three runs in the second inning.
Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager opened the inning with singles and moved to second and third on a wild pitch before Valencia split the right-center gap with a two-run double.
Valencia scored on Mike Zunino’s two-out double into the left-field corner.
The Mariners added another run in the fifth after Jarrod Dyson led off with a walk and moved to second on a balk after seven pickoff attempts. Ben Gamel delivered an RBI single later in the inning.
Gamel had a sacrifice fly in seventh inning that stretched the lead to 5-0.
PLAY OF THE GAME: Cishek defused the Rockies’ best scoring chance after replacing Paxton with one out in the sixth inning and runners at first and second.
"The last thing I want to do is let up his runs," Cishek said. "He pitched an unbelievable game. For the first game back from the DL, that was incredible."
Cishek retired D.J. LeMahieu and Nolan Arenado on popups to second baseman Robinson Cano. It was Cishek’s fifth appearance since returning for the disabled list and by far his best.
PLUS: Seager went 2-for-4 and has hits in 10 of his last 11 games. He is batting .357 (15-for-42) in that span…Valencia also went 2-for-4 and batted .306 in May after batting just .181 in April…Zunino has multiple hits in three straight games…Pazos has not allowed a run in his last six outings…
MINUS: Jean Segura and Seager each had errors. Segura bobbled a grounder, while Seager made a throwing error…Robinson Cano was hitless in four at-bats and was the only Mariner who didn’t reach base safely at least once.
STAT PACK: The Mariners reached the one-third point of their season at 25-29 and trailing first-place Houston by 13 games in the American League West Division.
QUOTABLE: "Seager is starting to hit," Servais said. "When Seager starts hitting, we are a different team. It’s nice to win the game 5-0 when Robby Cano doesn’t do much offensively because he’ll get his."
SHORT HOPS: Both teams were charged with a balk. The last time that happened in a game involving the Mariners was Sept. 20, 1988 against Kansas City…the Mariners finished with 10 hits, which marked their fourth straight game in double figures. They had a season-high 19 hits in Tuesday’s 10-4 victory at Colorado…the Mariners are 8-3 in interleague games…the Mariners’ four-game winning streak matches a season best. The Rockies’ three straight losses also match a season worst.
ON DECK: The Mariners and Rockies conclude their four-game split series at 12:40 p.m. Thursday at Safeco Field.
Right-hander Yovani Gallardo (2-5 with a 5.76 ERA) will oppose Colorado rookie left-hander Kyle Freeland (5-3, 3.43).
The game can be seen on Root Sports Northwest and heard on 710 ESPN and the Mariners Radio Network.
Tampa Bay arrives Friday for a three-game weekend series.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners