SEATTLE (AP) — When James Paxton was coming up through the minors, he was part of a trio that was expected to be the future of the Seattle Mariners rotation.
Paxton is the only one remaining with the Mariners after arm troubles stalled the career of Danny Hultzen and Taijuan Walker was traded in the offseason to Arizona.
Paxton will get the call Monday when the Mariners open the home part of their schedule against the Houston Astros in desperate need of some good news after an ugly 1-6 road trip to start the season.
Seattle dropped three of four in Houston then was swept by the Los Angeles Angels, capped by the bullpen allowing seven runs in the ninth inning of a 10-9 loss on Sunday.
It will be the second time Paxton has started a Mariners home opener and the start of a nine-game homestand, their only set of games at home in April. In 2014, Paxton allowed three runs in five innings in a 5-3 win over the Angels.
“There is lots going on. Last time I tried to stuff it down and not react to all the energy in the building,” Paxton said. “But I’ve kind of learned I need to use the energy in the building to have it take me to the next level. It’s kind of let the fans energize me and use it.”
While most of the offseason attention was placed on how Felix Hernandez would rebound from a disappointing 2016, Seattle’s rotation success will be largely pinned on how Paxton is able to build off the changes he made last season. Paxton started last year at Triple-A, and by the end of the year was Seattle’s most consistent starter.
He found an arm slot with his pitching motion that maximized velocity, added a cutter to the mix and didn’t shy from attacking hitters rather than nibbling on the edges.
“We had teams come through here, multiple teams, general managers sharing with me that James Paxton was as good stuff-wise as anyone they’d seen all year, including teams that were still playing in October,” Seattle general manager Jerry Dipoto said during the offseason. “He really showed us that he has the physical ability, like he has shown before to pitch near the top of the rotation.”
Paxton looked the part in his first outing against the Astros last week in Houston. Paxton allowed just two hits in six shutout innings while striking out five. If not for some pitch inefficiency in the early innings, Paxton probably would have pitched into the seventh, something he did only twice in the final seven starts of last season.
Paxton said he doesn’t believe there is an advantage for either side having faced the Astros less than a week ago. Charlie Morton, who gave up two runs in six innings against Seattle, will get the start for the Astros.
“It’s just kind of a wash on that,” he said.
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