The long wait of nearly four months for James Paxton was redeemed in his first appearance on a big-league mound since straining a lat muscle in the Mariners’ home opener.
The rookie left-hander lasted 4.1 innings and 83 pitches in Saturday’s outing. He allowed two runs on four hits and three walks and struck out five. That left Paxton on the bench watching his teammates hold onto a lead in the Mariners’ 6-3 win over the Orioles.
The Orioles took a 1-0 lead in the first inning on an understandably nervous Paxton (2-0, 2.76 ERA). He walked leadoff hitter Nick Markakis on five pitches and yielded a double to Manny Machado.
But after Adam Jones delivered an RBI ground-out to the right side, Paxton responded with strikeouts of Nelson Cruz and Delmon Young swinging on a couple of nasty 83 mph curveballs in the dirt.
With that strong 12-6 curveball and a fastball that touched 98, Paxton fared well in his return. Baltimore (61-48) made him work, especially in the first two innings when he threw close to 45 pitches, but couldn’t come up with the big hit.
Instead the Orioles settled for a solo home run by rookie catcher Caleb Joseph in the fifth inning, After a one out walk to Markakis. manager Lloyd McClendon lifted Paxton, who surpassed his minor-league rehab high by five pitches. Reliever Dominic Leone recorded the final two outs and pitched a 1-2-3 sixth to pick up his fourth win.
In support of Paxton, the offense was once again catapulted by Dustin Ackley in a 3-for-5 game that left him a triple short of the cycle.
Ackley hit his sixth homer, a solo shot in the third inning off Orioles starter Miguel Gonzalez (5-6, 3.93 ERA) to tie the game 1-1. His double in the fifth, with the score unchanged, set the table for Robinson Cano.
With runners on second and third and a base empty, it looked like Orioles manager Buck Showalter would have Gonzalez put Cano on with an intentional walk. They chose to pitch to the M’s leading hitter, and Cano made the Orioles pay with a three-run home run over the tall scoreboard in right field.
After Joseph’s homer cut the lead, Seattle (57-53) added scored twice in the ninth on a Kendrys Morales two-out bases-loaded single. The hit brought home Austin Jackson and Ackley, the latter scoring his third run.
Fernando Rodney allowed one run on two hits and a walk in the ninth before sealing the win. Seattle’s bullpen pitched 4.2 innings in which it held Baltimore to one run on four hits.
Less than a week after Gonzalez, 30, held the Mariners to one run over six innings, the Mariners got to him for four runs on seven hits and a walk over five.
The victory helped Seattle even the series and pick up a game on Toronto in the race for the second wild card spot in the American League, which it now trails by two.
Paxton, 25, missed 115 days in a long process that had a setback in late May due to shoulder inflammation. Seemingly healthy now, Paxton represents a key addition for the Mariners in their stretch drive.
To make room for Paxton on the 40- and 25-man rosters, the Mariners placed DH Corey Hart on the 15-day disabled list (knee) and outrighted RHP Blake Beavan to Tacoma after the latter cleared waivers . . . OF Jackson batted 2-for-4, notching his first hits as a Mariner in his second game . . . All eight of Cano’s home runs have come with at least one runner on base.