It isn’t just the Mariners’ rotation that got a boost Wednesday in a 5-0 victory over Colorado at Safeco Field.
Sure, the focus, deservedly, was on James Paxton, who pitched 5 1/3 innings in his first start since May 2 after being activated from the disabled list earlier in the day.
But don’t overlook sidearming reliever Steve Cishek, who recorded five straight outs after replacing Paxton with one out in the sixth inning when the Rockies had two runners on base.
Cishek recovered slowly this spring after undergoing surgery in October to repair a torn labrum in his left hip. He opened the season on the disabled list and required two minor-league rehab assignments before returning May 15 to active duty.
"My fastball felt great," he said. "I felt like I’m getting a lot closer with that. The slider was just off a tick, but it was still effective. I was able to mix the speeds with it. I feel that every few days the ball is just coming out a little livelier."
Cishek, 30, began last season as the Mariners’ closer and recorded 25 saves before his hip forced him to the disabled list in early August. He later returned in a setup role and compiled a 1.10 ERA in 18 appearances over the final six weeks.
"The cortisone shot took away the inflammation," he said, "but it just felt like (the hip) was grinding. It was a little bit of pain, but not like it was before I went on the DL. Then it was really grabbing hard."
Surgery corrected the problem in his non-baseball world — "Playing with my daughter, I feel nothing" — but his hip bit back this spring as he struggled to regain the strength required for his sweeping high-torque delivery.
After five ineffective appearances on an April rehab assignment, Cishek took two weeks off to refine things before trying again. Much better. Two scoreless outings at Triple-A Tacoma convinced the Mariners that he was ready to return.
"Those extra days let (the hip) calm down a little bit," he said. "All of the rehab stuff is really starting to take effect. I’m starting to feel a lot stronger."
Manager Scott Servais, at this point, is trying to spot Cishek solely into right-on-right matchups, which have been a strength throughout his eight-year career. That was true Wednesday, although it was also a higher-leverage situation.
It was the Rockies’ only real threat in the game, and they had the middle of their order lined up. Cishek stranded both runners by retiring D.J. LeMahieu and Nolan Arenado on infield popups.
"Really good outing for Steve," Servais said. "With his deception, his side-arm delivery and ability to sweep the breaking ball, we feel better about him against right-handed hitters right now."
Note that "right now" part.
Cishek has been a closer for much of his career, which means he’s had success against right- and left-handed hitters in tight situations. The goal, eventually, is for him to slide into eighth inning as the primary setup man for closer Edwin Diaz.
"I feel (the hip) a little bit," Cishek said, "but it feels a lot better than it did last year. I just need to get stronger. That's all it is. Everyday life is 10 times better than it was. Not even close."
***Thursday’s matchup is right-hander Yovani Gallardo (2-5 with a 5.76 ERA) against Colorado rookie left-hander Kyle Freeland (5-3 and 3.43). The game starts at 12:40 p.m. and can be seen on Root Sports Northwest.
***Gallardo has won just one of his last six starts while allowing 24 runs and 34 hits in 32 1/3 innings. He is 0-5 with a 5.70 ERA in 11 career games, including 10 starts, against the Rockies.
***Carlos Gonzalez is 8-for-19 in his career against Gallardo, but Gerardo Parra is just 3-for-24. Gallardo has handled most of the Rockies’ top hitters: Charlie Blackmon (1-for-6), Mark Reynolds (1-for-7), D.J. LeMahieu (1-for-6) and Nolan Arenado (1-for-3).
***Freeland has never faced the Mariners or any current Mariners in a big-league game. He has six quality starts in his last seven outings.
***The Mariners have won four in a row, which matches a season best, and all four victories went to starting pitchers. The last time the rotation registered four straight victories was Sept. 7-10, 2016. The last time it had five in a row was an eight-game streak from July 12-23, 2013.
***The Mariners, after Wednesday’s 5-0 victory, are 22-9 when they score four or more runs, including 14-1 in their last 15 such games. They are 3-20 when they score less than four runs.
It was three years ago — June 1, 2014 — that lefty Roenis Elias became the first Mariners rookie to pitch a complete-game shutout in nearly 15 years in a 4-0 victory over the Detroit Tigers at Safeco Field.
Elias allowed just three hits while striking out eight and walking one in an 111-pitch outing. The losing pitcher was Max Scherzer, who was the American League’s reigning Cy Young Award winner.
The last Mariners rookie to pitch a complete-game shutout was Freddy Garcia on Aug. 24, 1999 in a 5-0 victory also against Detroit at Safeco Field.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners