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Mariners’ James Paxton works on secondary pitches in outing against minor leaguers

James Paxton struck out eight while focusing heavily on off-speed pitches on Sunday. (AP)

PEORIA, Ariz. – It’s not uncommon to see big-league starters get some of their work in minor-league games during spring training. That’s especially true as the spring wears on, as the Mariners will often send starters down if their pitch day falls on an opponent they are scheduled to face early in the season.

That’s why, with the Mariners scheduled to play the Rangers Sunday, James Paxton was left behind to face players from the lower minors of the White Sox organization. His approach in the outing against the minor leaguers was to work on specific pitches rather than use his pitches as he would in the regular season.

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Paxton threw 4 2/3 innings, giving up two runs on three hits while striking out eight in front of a meager crowd that included about 25 fans who chose not to make the trip to Surprise, about 40 minor leaguers who wandered by to watch, and some Mariners’ staff – including general manager Jerry Dipoto. Paxton threw 80 pitches, 48 for strikes, on an afternoon that reached 95 degrees.

As is often the situation when a big leaguer faces players from the lower minors, the kids were swinging. The good news was, they weren’t getting very much. While Paxton’s line against a group of mostly 19- and 20-year-olds may not seem that impressive, it’s not unusual to see bigger numbers as the kids tend to sell out for the big hits in these matchups. Paxton was able to control the game while working on his pitches.

“The plan was to throw more off-speed pitches,” he said. “I could have thrown more fastballs.”

He also could have thrown more of his cutter, which was good, but was told to stay on track with the offspeed plan when he went to the cutter too early in counts.

“We tried to stay away from the cutter but when he needed it, on two of the strikeouts and the double play ball, it was there,” said Carlos Ruiz, who caught him Sunday. “It was his best pitch but we were working on curveball and changeup today.”

Though Ruiz has caught a couple of Paxton’s bullpen sessions, this was the first time the pair worked together in a game, and both liked what they saw from the other.

“Chooch did a good job calling the game and really mixing my stuff in and working on all of the pitches today,” Paxton said.

“I was real happy to catch and see how he likes to work,” Ruiz sais. “It was good to see him aggressive in the strike zone. His command: one inning he struggled a little bit, but when he came back he made an adjustment. It was fun today to be behind the plate.”

Paxton should be back facing major leaguers in his next start, when the Mariners are scheduled for split-squad action against the Royals and Angels. The team plays the A’s and Angels back-to-back after their off day Monday, so Drew Smyly and Yovani Gallardo will make their next starts against minor leaguers. If you are down here, it is a great opportunity to see the work up close with so few people on hand. I highly recommend taking in at least one game on the back fields – the sights and the sounds are quite different from what you see in the bigger stadiums.

Notes:

-In Surprise it was not a good day for the hitters as the Mariners fell 3-2 to the Rangers. Taylor Motter – who was the only Mariner with multiple hits – split time between left field and first base.

“You will see him more at first base and in left field as we get going,” said Scott Servais following the game. “We are very comfortable wherever we put him, he’s shown well at short, second and third so we are putting him at some other spots.”

-After the game against the Rangers the Mariners announced that OF Tyler O’Neill had been re-assigned to minor league camp. With the move 45 remain in big league came, 35 roster players, 10 invitees.

-Monday is an off day, there will be minor league games at the complex but no Major League work is scheduled.

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