If the Mariners are to mount a postseason push over the next 2 1/2 months, Friday’s 4-2 victory over the Chicago White Sox provided a blueprint.
James Paxton pitched through the sixth inning before the bullpen closed out the victory.
The lineup missed several chances to build a comfortable lead in going 2-for-13 with runners in scoring position, but Robinson Cano provided a sufficient boost for Paxton by hitting a three-run homer in the third inning,
"Our bullpen really sets up nice," manager Scott Servais said, "if we can get our starter through six. We’ve got a lot of options, and the guys who came out of the pen were right on tonight."
Six innings from Paxton looked iffy early on. While he didn’t walk anyone, his pitch count climbed toward 80 through four innings before he found another gear and breezed through the fifth and sixth.
"An uptick in intensity," he explained. "I need to find a way to get to that earlier in the game, so that I can ride that out longer."
Paxton retired the final eight batters he faced before the bullpen took over.
***Tony Zych struck out two in a one-two-three seventh inning.
***Nick Vincent struck out two in a one-two-three eighth inning.
***Edwin Diaz struck out two in a one-two-three ninth inning.
"Those guys looked sharp," Paxton observed. "They did a great job today."
They’ve been doing a pretty good job for a while now.
The Mariners’ bullpen has a 2.74 ERA over its last 46 games since May 22, which is the best mark in the majors over that span. The key, as Servais keeps stressing, is only requiring them to cover nine outs.
Felix Hernandez starts Saturday against the White Sox, and the goal is simple: six solid innings.
Three takeaways from Friday’s victory:
***Three-way punch: Some numbers on the Zych-Vincent-Diaz relay that closed out Friday’s victory.
Zych lowered his ERA to 2.25 and has 23 scoreless outings in his 30 appearances. In his other seven, he permitted just one run.
Vincent has not allowed a run in 34 of his 38 outings and has an 0.95 ERA in his last 22 games while going 1-0 with 12 holds in that span.
Diaz has a 2.11 ERA while converting seven of eight save opportunities in his last 20 appearances, which roughly covers the period from the point that pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre corrected some mechanical flaws.
***Paxton’s progress: Paxton has won three straight decisions and, at 8-3, has already established a career high in victories — a fact that, more than anything, speaks to his inability to stay healthy in previous seasons.
His 3.19 ERA would rank sixth in the American League if he had sufficient innings to qualify — he’s 3 2/3 innings shy of the standard because he missed four weeks in May because of a strained forearm muscle.
The same goes for his 10.30 strikeouts per nine innings; it also would also rank sixth among AL pitchers.
Paxton is close to being the ace the Mariners need and have long envisioned. He just needs to stay healthy.
***Muscling up but…: Cano has seven homers and 21 RBIs in his last 17 games for a robust .634 slugging percentage in that span. But it’s coming at a cost. He is batting just .267 in those 17 games with a .310 on-base percentage.
Cano’s career slash coming into the season was .307/.355/.498. His season totals this year are .278/.336/.491.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners