By Christian Caple The News Tribune
SEATTLE — A day later, Seattle Mariners left-hander James Paxton still felt good about his first rehabilitation outing at Class AAA Tacoma, even if he’s feeling a little tightness in his triceps.
But both Paxton and manager Lloyd McClendon called that “normal” for a pitcher making his first start in a game since April 8, which is what Paxton did Saturday by throwing 62 pitches in a three-inning outing for the Rainiers.
“It’s pretty typical. You expect a little bit of soreness coming back after something like this,” Paxton said prior to Seattle’s game Sunday against the Houston Astros. “I think it’s pretty normal.”
It doesn’t appear any decision has yet been made about when — or where — Paxton might pitch next. Right-hander Brandon Maurer’s rocky season — augmented by his rough start on Saturday — has led to speculation that he might be the most viable candidate to be sent down once Paxton is ready to return to the rotation. But McClendon said they won’t know what Paxton’s next step will be until after he throws his next bullpen, which will likely be today.
Maurer is 1-3 with a 6.99 ERA in six starts with the Mariners this season, and allowed six hits, six runs and two home runs in 41/3 innings against the Astros on Saturday.
McClendon met with Maurer in his office prior to Sunday’s game. Asked about that conversation, McClendon responded: “My conversation with Brandon was private.”
If the Mariners do want to make a move sooner rather than later, Paxton’s pitching schedule would allow him to slide into Maurer’s spot in the rotation without adjustment. But Paxton said he “would understand completely” if he’s asked to make another rehab start or two before returning to the big leagues.
Before he does that, Paxton said, he needs to do a “little bit of refining. I was trying to find my timing (Saturday). I feel like it was a good step forward, but still a few things I need to smooth out a little bit. I don’t think it’s a very big jump to where I need to be.”
Paxton struck out five batters, walked two and allowed three runs in three innings in Tacoma on Saturday. It was the first time he’d pitched to opposing batters since straining a muscle in his back against the Angels on April 8.
It was a little different than the simulated game he threw last week.
“It was definitely a different feeling than facing your own guys,” Paxton said. “It was good to get out there and face some guys with different jerseys on and kind of get those competitive juices flowing again.”
James Jones and Robinson Cano are streaking no more.
Jones, the Mariners’ center fielder who entered Sunday’s game riding a 14-game hitting streak, went 0-for-4 against Astros starter Dallas Keuchel. The Mariners had just four hits, though Jones almost added to that total when he hit a line drive toward the pitcher’s mound to lead off the bottom of the ninth inning.
But the ball struck something hard— the rubber, likely— and ricocheted directly to first baseman Jesus Guzman, who fielded it and took a couple of easy steps to first base to record the out.
Cano, who had reached base safely in 31 consecutive games — that was the longest such active streak in the Major Leagues — also went 0-for-4 against Keuchel. The closest Cano came to reaching base on Sunday was in the third, when he hit a sharp line drive that shortstop Marwin Gonzalez snagged for the third out of the inning.
The end of Cano’s streak offers a reminder as to just how good the Mariners second baseman had been. He hit .372 in those 31 games with nine doubles, a homer and 20 RBI.
“I’ve said all along he’s one of the top five players in the game,” McClendon said before the game. “What he’s doing is not a surprise to me. I don’t really think he’s gotten hot. I just think he’s been very consistent.”
Of Jones, who is now batting .288 through the first 20 games of his rookie season, McClendon said: “I didn’t think he would be overmatched at this level. I didn’t think he’d do as well as he’s done this quickly. (But) does it surprise me? Not really. He’s a very talented young man. Very athletic. His speed causes problems on the baseball field for other teams. We knew he was capable of this when we saw him in spring training.”
The Mariners begin a four-game series against the Los Angeles Angels today (1:10 p.m., ROOT Sports). Right-hander Chris Young (3-2, 3.53 ERA) is scheduled to pitch for the Mariners against left-hander Tyler Skaggs (4-1, 4.14).