Making his fourth major league start, rookie James Paxton worked a career-high 7.0 innings and fanned a career-high 10, and Justin Smoak ripped a three-run homer as the Mariners finally delivered a September highlight, blanking the Kansas City Royals 4-0 at Safeco Field Tuesday night. With the victory, the Mariners (69-89) avoided their 90th loss and won for just the seventh time this month.
Seattle scored off Kansas City starter Bruce Chen in the first inning when Kendrys Morales drove in Brad Miller with an RBI single, and the Royals were unable to respond to Paxton after that. After allowing two singles in the first inning, which were erased by a double play, Paxton didn’t allow more than one base runner in any inning after that and at one point retired 12 straight.
In addition to his 10 strikeouts, Paxton, a fourth-round draft pick by the Mariners in 2010, didn’t walk a batter.
“I just felt really good out there,” said Paxton, who went 8-11 for the AAA Tacoma Rainiers this season. “I felt locked in. (Catcher) Mike Zunino called a great game, and I just focused on executing my pitches. We had a plan and executed it. I think the atmosphere, the electricity of a major league ballpark raises your intensity and helps you get locked in. I just get so, not amped up, but locked in. I’m putting myself in a good position for next year.”
With Paxton effectively pounding both sides of the plates down with fastballs, the Mariners blew the game open in the fifth, all with two outs. Morales, who finished with three hits, doubled to center. After Franklin Gutierrez walked, Smoak drilled an 0-and-2 fastball over the wall in left, his 19th homer of the season and second in three nights.
Of Smoak’s 19 home runs, only two have come right handed, the first one Sunday afternoon against the Angels, the second Tuesday against the Royals.
ARMS: Paxton is the fourth Mariners starting pitcher in franchise history to record 10 or more strikeouts in one of his first four starts, following Byron McLaughlin (10), April 25, 1978; Erik Hanson (11) Sept. 16, 1988, and Felix Hernandez (11), Aug. 15, 2005. Paxton is also the first Mariners starter to begin a career 3-0 since Freddy Garcia in 1999.
BATS: Nick Franklin, who went 1-for-4, extended his hitting streak to a career-high eight games . . . Smoak’s 19th home run tied a career high . . . Morales, who went 3-for-4, recorded his 45th multi-hit game . . . Abraham Almonte has reached base safely in all 18 of his major league games.
NOTES: The Mariners recorded their 13th shutout of the season, their first at home since Aug. 11 vs. Milwaukee and their first at home against Kansas City since 2006 . . . Mariners LHP Danny Hultzen, the second player taken in the 2011 draft, has a problem with his left shoulder and will see Dr. James Andrews Monday. “Ed (team doctor Ed Khalfayan) saw him and, quite frankly, doesn’t like what he sees. He saw some damage that he was unhappy with. It’s in the shoulder but not in the rotator cuff, more tendon area, labrum,” said GM Jack Zduriencik . . . Zduriencik, it was confirmed, will return as the club’s GM next season.
NEXT: The Mariners and Royals close out their three-game series Wednesday with a 7:10 p.m. first pitch at Safeco Field. RHP Hisashi Iwakuma (13-6, 2.76), will make his final start of the season, opposing RHP Ervin Santana (9-9, 3.16). The Mariners will take Thursday off and begin a three-game series against the Oakland Athletics Friday to close out the season.