BY SPNW Staff 06:30AM 04/17/2017

Mariners Week: Paxton elevates to ace status

The Mariners entered the week with a 1-6 record, but won four of six games, including a sweep of Texas, to evacuate the AL West cellar with a 5-8 record. And James Paxton was a revelation.

James Paxton threw 15 consecutive scoreless innings last week. / Alan Chitlik, Sportspress Northwest

Takeaways

After dropping two of three to Houston to begin the week and falling to 2-8, the Mariners crawled off the stretcher and swept the Texas Rangers, finishing them off Sunday by rallying from a 6-1 deficit and winning 8-7 on Nelson Cruz’s ninth-inning, walk-off single (box). Improving to 5-8, the Mariners also exited last place in the AL West (standings). The week that was:

Felix Hernandez, who has 15 strikeouts and no walks in three starts, is officially Seattle’s ace, but James Paxton has been its best pitcher so far. In two outings last week, starting with the home opener Monday, Paxton threw 15 innings, allowed six hits, didn’t allow a run, fanned 17 and walked three. He has tossed 21 consecutive scoreless innings this season, the best start to a year by a Mariners pitcher. The previous best was by reliever Mark Lowe (17.2 innings) in 2006, and the previous best by starter was by Hernandez (17.0) in 2007.

Who knew? After 13 games that included three series, newcomers Mitch Haniger (.294/.410/.588) and Taylor Motter (.292/.370/.708) had better slash lines than Robinson Cano (.212/.281/.327), Nelson Cruz (.229/.321/.332) and Kyle Seager (.250/.352/.318). Haniger, a rookie who came to town as part of the Jean Segura/Taijuan Walker trade, finished the week with a 10-game hitting streak (407-foot, three-run homer Sunday) while batting .391 (9-for-23) with five runs scored and 10 RBIs. Motter hit .333 with four runs, four doubles, two home runs and five RBIs in six games since taking over for the injured Segura. Haniger hit .229 for Arizona last year and Motter .189 for Tampa Bay.

Haniger and Motter helped offset what had been, until Sunday, another dismal week for the Mariners hitting with runners in scoring position. They went 9-for-51 (.176) through Saturday, a slight uptick over the first week when they went 8-for-57 (.140), before going 5-for-12 Sunday, including Cruz’s walk-off single.

Houston’s George Springer might win the AL West all by himself. He had a leadoff homer Tuesday (424 feet) off Seattle’s Ariel Miranda. Three of Springer’s leadoff homers have come against the Mariners. Tuesday marked the second time Springer led off with a home run against Miranda. His other leadoff jolt against Seattle came against Hernandez on opening day.

Essential moments

Trailing 5-0 in the seventh inning Monday, the Astros placed two runners aboard with no outs, conjuring ugly memories of Seattle’s ninth-inning meltdown in its previous game when the Angels erased a six-run deficit and won 10-9. But Paxton got Evan Gattis to foul out, struck out Marwin Gonzalez and had defensive help from Leonys Martin running down Josh Reddick’s drive to cap the outing and lift the Mariners to a 6-0 win in their first home game of 2017.

Sunday, the Mariners would have remained in last place, and fallen to 4-9, if not for Cruz’s walk-off single. Seattle entered the ninth trailing 7-6, tied it when Haniger walked with the sacks full, and won 8-7 on Cruz’s infield hit. That was Cruz’s first walk-off hit since May 15, 2015 against Boston.

Innings of the Week

  • Houston sixth Tuesday: The Mariners took a 3-2 lead into the inning, but the Astros got a pair of lucky bounces with two outs that led to four runs. Gattis did the major damage, driving in three with a pinch-hit, bases-loaded double. The Astros went on to win 7-5. Gattis hit .176 with the bases loaded last season, fourth lowest in the American League.
  • Houston fourth Wednesday: Mariners starter Yovani Gallardo walked three in the fourth to launch Houston’s rally from a 5-0 deficit. The Astros won 10-5.
  • Seattle sixth Saturday: The game was scoreless until Seager hit a two-run single and  Motter belted a 404-foot, three-run homer. The Mariners won back-to-back for the first time this season.


Noteworthy

  • The Mariners not only recorded their first shutout (6-0) in a home opener since 2013, and improved to 25-16 in 41 home openers overall, but followed a walk-off loss (10-9 April 9 in Anaheim) with a shutout win for the first time since 2015 (lost June 28 at Anaheim 3-2, beat San Diego 5-0 June 30).
  • By scoring runs in 10 consecutive games, Haniger set a rookie franchise record held by Danny Tartabull (June 21-29, 1986). Haniger ended the week with twice as many homers (4) as Cano, Cruz and Seager (2) have combined.
  • In Seattle’s 2-1 win over Texas Friday, Hernandez extended his streak of innings without issuing a walk to 18.1. His three consecutive starts of 5.0+ innings and no walks is tied for the longest streak to start a season in club history (also: Cliff Lee from April 30-May 11, 2010).
  • Seattle’s sweep of Texas was its first against the Rangers at Safeco Field since Sept. 28-30, 2007. Also Sunday, the Mariners completed their first come-from-behind win when trailing by at least five runs since June 2 at San Diego (trailed 12-2 after five, won 16-13).
  • The Mariners won on a walk-off, infield single Sunday for the first time since June 2, 2010, when Ichiro beat Minnesota 2-1 in 10 innings.
  • Manager Scott Servais’ ejection Sunday was the second of his career (June 26, 2016 vs. St. Louis).

Not in the box score

  • The Mariners lost to the Astros Wednesday after leading 5–0. They also lost to the Angels April 9 after leading by seven in the ninth. They became the first major-league team since the 2000 Baltimore Orioles to lose after leading by five or more runs twice within the first 10 games of a season.
  • Cruz hit a fourth-inning home run Friday in a 2-1 win over Texas, his first long ball of 2017 in his 40th at bat of the season. That marked Cruz’s longest homerless at-bat streak to start a year since 2007. Playing for the Texas Rangers, he did not homer until his 88th at-bat.
  • When Paxton threw eight scoreless innings in the Mariners’ 5–0 win over the Rangers Saturday night, he became the fourth pitcher in American League history to throw at least six scoreless innings in each of the first three games of a season. Before Paxton, only Ray Caldwell of the 1914 Yankees, Luis Tiant of the 1966 Indians and Jordan Zimmermann of the 2016 Tigers had done so.
  • Shin-Soo Choo of Texas had five RBIs in Sunday’s game against the Mariners, becoming the third ex-Seattle player to twice drive in five or more runs in a game against his former team. Choo, who played for Seattle in 2005-06, also had five RBIs against the Mariners Sept. 2, 2010 while playing for Cleveland. The two other ex-M’s with two games of five or more RBIs against Seattle: Tino Martinez (Yankees) and Alex Rodriguez (Rangers).

The Mariners unveiled a statue of Ken Griffey Jr. Thursday in front of the main gate at  Safeco Field. / Alan Chitlik, Sportspress Northwest

Words

“I feel really confident in what I’m doing and focusing on the process of what I need to do out there, and so far getting the good results we need.” — Paxton Monday, after beating the Houston Astros for the second time in a week

“I think he’s gonna give the whole league a hard time if he has that kind of power and that kind of ability to land his breaking ball.” — Houston manager A.J. Hinch on Paxton

“Taylor (Motter) has been very impressive. He’s been driving the ball against some pretty good pitching and played well at shortstop, starting to settle in and be comfortable. He’s one of the bright spots, swinging the bat as good as anyone we have right now.” – Servais, after Motter homered and doubled in Seattle’s 10-5 loss to the Astros Wednesday.

“It’s something you dream about as a kid, so in that regard, it’s special. I’ve got a big league homer now — something that a lot of people aren’t able to do. I recognize that. I don’t hit a lot of homers, so it’s special for me.” – Mike Freeman, after hitting his first MLB home run Wednesday

“I like the new-look Felix. I’ll take the 7 1/3 and keeping them right there. He’s very efficient with his pitches. He got a few strikeouts tonight, but that’s not what was driving him. It was, get us back in the dugout and keep them off the board.” — Servais, after Hernandez notched his first win of 2017, a 2-1 victory over the Texas Rangers Friday

“My mechanics are real good, I’m throwing a lot of strikes. Last year, I was walking a lot of people and getting in trouble.” – Hernandez, after running to 18.1 Friday his streak of innings without a walk.

“I’m just being really aggressive. I’ve got the power stuff, and I need to be aggressive and go after guys.” – Paxton, after extending his streak of scoreless innings

Transactions/DL

Monday: SS Jean Segura placed on the 10-day disabled list; INF Mike Freeman recalled from AAA Tacoma; LHP Paul Fry designated for assignment. Wednesday: Recalled RHP Evan Marshall from Tacoma; outrighted RHP Casey Fien to Tacoma. Friday, April 14: Activated RHP Tony Zych from a rehab assignment; optioned LHP Dillon Overton to Tacoma; traded Fry to Baltimore in exchange for the Orioles’ international signing slot #105.

Next

The Mariners conclude the home stand starting 7:10 p.m. Monday with three against the Miami Marlins. LHP Ariel Miranda will throw for Seattle opposite RHP Tom Koehler. The Mariners begin a 10-day road trip Thursday in Oakland. Before returning to Safeco Field May 3, the Mariners will play in Detroit and Cleveland.

 

 


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