clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

James Paxton struggles, playing right into Mariners plan for miracle playoff run

Is James Paxton broken? (hint: no)

Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports

Do you ever psyche yourself up for something throughout the course of an hour, a day, or even a week? Sometimes to the point where, no matter how good the thing actually turns out, it couldn’t possibly live up to your expectations? And then when the thing turns out to be Not Good, you deal with not only the fallout of sadness and despondency, but the cruel chill of disappointment? Well, if you said “no,” then perhaps today was your first experience of the above!

Today, the Mariners faced the Texas Rangers in a game that I’m sure many of us looked forward to. It was a beautiful Friday afternoon, and James Paxton was going to be pitching! James Paxton, the only current Mariners starter that is supposed to be good (with apologies to Yovani Gallardo and Ariel Miranda, who have been fine, but were not projected to be worth more than a win or so each this year).

The past ten games over three series have been, for lack of a better word, exhausting. I was surprised to check today and see that the Mariners went 5-5 over those ten games. With that miserable Blue Jays series and an away Twins series that saw the team lose 20-7 in one game, I suppose it isn’t completely surprising that it’s felt like a slog. So when the week finally ended, and James Paxton took the hill against a Rangers team that was just 0.5 games ahead of the Mariners in the wild card race, and starting a fresh-off-rehab Tyson Ross, it was hard to be anything but optimistic.

The game started off promisingly enough. Ben Gamel, apparently determined to make me regret a “Ben Gamel should not be hitting leadoff” comment I made a week ago, started the 1st inning with a walk and a stolen base. After a wild pitch sent him to third, he scored on a groundout, giving the Mariners an early 1-0 lead.

Unfortunately, the Mariners wouldn’t even record a hit until the fifth inning, and wouldn’t score again until the sixth. At that point, the game was well out of hand. Why? Well, James Paxton ran into some issues.

The first two innings went smoothly enough for Paxton. The same cannot be said of the third inning. Following a flyout to open the frame, Paxton issued two straight walks on just nine pitches (his second and third of the day) to Delino DeShields and Shin-Soo Choo. Now, don’t get me wrong. Paxton’s command wasn’t great. That being said, home plate umpire Alan Porter didn’t do him any favors. At least three questionable ball calls led to Paxton’s strike zone getting squeezed quite a bit. Is it possible that getting squeezed psyched Paxton out a little bit? Maybe. It’s hard to say. Alan Porter wasn’t responsible for what came next.

First, an absolutely hung curveball doubled in a run and put Elvis Andrus on second base. Next up was Adrian Beltre, who saw two fastballs right down the middle before finally depositing a third one into the outfield and scoring two runs.

I’m sure Mike Zunino probably had his reasons, but you can see from the tracer where Paxton had already put two 94 MPH fastballs. Zunino calls for a third, and as you can see, he sets up right in the middle of the plate. It’s easy enough for me to criticize from my living room, it just seems a bit... yeah. Some bad luck caused a Jonathan Lucroy ground ball to barely find the left field gap, scoring two more, and just like that it was 5-1 Rangers.

Paxton didn’t make it through the fourth, and it isn’t hard to see why. Not only was he coming up on 100 pitches, he just didn’t seem to have much command. Check out his last run allowed, a dinger off the bat of Robinson Chirinos.

As you can see, it was another fastball right down the middle of the plate. Scott Servais was probably not thrilled with the idea of turning to the bullpen in the fourth inning of the first game against a division rival, so he left Paxton in for a few more batters. The damage was done. It was 6-1 Rangers, and the Mariners would never recover, eventually going on to lose 10-4.

So, what happened to Paxton? Well, to start with, this was just his third start back since missing significant time with an injury. His velocity was down 1-2 MPH all night, which is probably nothing to freak out about. The movement on his breaking stuff just wasn’t really there. And his command was spotty, to say the lest. It’s possible these are indicative of some sort of dead arm, but unless we hear anything from the team, I’d hold off on worrying too much. We know that James Paxton is a pitcher with good stuff, good command, and good speed. No, he didn’t suddenly lose all of those traits in six days.

Not to sound like I’m making too many excuses for Paxton, but this was a very hot day in an extremely hitter-friendly park. Paxton was consistently squeezed by an inconsistent Alan Porter. And a Beltre bloop single and a Lucroy weak ground ball single were at the core of Paxton’s unraveling in the third. It didn’t look great, but don’t panic. Really.

Here are some extraneous notes:

  • Zac Curtis was called up from Double-A Arkansas today, and immediately saw game action. He was roughed up immediately, giving up a single, a walk, and a dinger in his first inning of work. He managed to settle down after that, and came away with 3.0 IP, 3 ER, a walk, and a strikeout. Will he be immediately sent down now that he’s thrown his One Long Relief Outing? Probably.
  • Ben Gamel looked good again today, reaching base three times in his four plate appearances. He continues to strike out a little too much, but it’s safe to say he’s earned a starting job over Taylor Motter once Jean Segura comes back.
  • Mike Zunino also continues to hit well and strike out way too much. He went 2-for-4 on the day with two strikeouts. One of his strikeouts came on a full count, and the other came in a 2-2 count, so it’s encouraging that he’s going deep into counts.

The team will be back out in Arlington at 2:05 PM PST, when Yovani Gallardo takes on Martin Perez. Perez has a 4.56 ERA on the year, but a 2.45 ERA against the Mariners. Yay!

Go M’s.