By John Boyle
The Mariners impressive start to the 2014 season continued with a 5-3 victory over the Angels, but Seattle’s home opener wasn’t all good news. Starter James Paxton, who pitched brilliantly after a rough first inning, left in the sixth with what manager Lloyd McClendon called a “slight lat strain.”
Latissimus dorsi injuries can be bad news for pitchers depending on the severity—Mariners reliever Stephen Pryor missed almost all of last season with a torn lat that was initially called a strain—but Paxton, who will have an MRI Wednesday, didn’t think his injury was very serious.
“I don’t think it’s going to be a big deal,” he said. “It’s not like it’s a real pain, just a little soreness. We’ll see what’s going on tomorrow when I get that MRI.”
Paxton said he “just felt a little tweak” while facing Erick Aybar to end the fifth inning, then felt it again after throwing a fastball to Mike Trout, the second batter he faced in the sixth, leading to his exit from the game.
“I just want to be careful right now,” Paxton said. “My strength is still good, they said, so I just want to get it checked out… You want to be careful this time of the year, you don’t want to push it too hard.”
“It feels fine just standing here, but I guess we’ll find out tomorrow what exactly is going on.”
As for the rough start—prior to retiring 14 straight batters, Paxton gave up back-to-back homers in the first—Paxton said that was a little bit of opening-day nerves.
“I was a little excited, obviously,” he said. “I just left some pitches up, and when you make mistakes to hitters that good, they’re going to make it hurt. Then I kind of calmed myself down between innings and went out there and kind of got back to doing what I do.”
If Paxton’s early exit was the day’s worst news for the Mariners, then the best was the two-homer day for Corey Hart. Hart, who came into the day hitting just .167 with five strikeouts in 18 at bats, hit a three-run homer to give the Mariners the lead in the third inning, then added a solo shot to dead center in the seventh to extend the lead.
Hart’s first homer came on an 0-2 count, and asked what he was thinking on that pitch, he said, “Make contact. It’s been rough. I’ve been trying to work through things.”
“So many guys on this team have been chipping in, and I haven’t been one of them, so it was nice to find contact tonight and be able to help out. I was getting kind of tired of watching everyone else help out.”
On coming through in the home opener with a new team, Hart, who missed all of last season following surgery on both knees, said, “It was unbelievable. I haven’t had a whole lot of good baseball moments lately.”