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Mariners LHP James Paxton
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Mariners Observations: Paxton and top prospects steal the show vs Brewers

In his first outing of spring training, Mariners LHP James Paxton struck out eight batters. (Getty)

The Mariners’ lineup against the Brewers featured all of two and a half regulars, but there is little question, the Sunday road squad, which featured James Paxton on the mound making his Cactus League debut and phenoms Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodríguez hitting back-to-back in the order, held more intrigue than the rest of the week’s lineups combined. Safe to say, the day did not disappoint.

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“I was not expecting to get eight punchouts the first time out there,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said of Paxton, revealing that the lefty wanted to stay out there and see if he could get to 10 strikeouts. “He did not disappoint. A really, really good first outing for him in an A game. Certainly, really excited to have him back in our uniform.”

Paxton went 4 1/3 innings surrendering one run on two hits (one a leadoff sun double by Kolten Wong that Jake Fraley could not see in left field) and two walks while striking out eight.

After a bit of a rocky start, he was able to settle in, get swings and misses with a fastball that sat around 95 mph and topped out at 97, and work in the breaking ball and changeup. After being limited to sim games only due to work Visa issues, Paxton was glad to see hitters in different uniforms on the other side.

“It was great,” he said. “I really enjoyed it. It was fun to get out there with the guys and compete. I was excited for today’s game. I was definitely fired up for it. The first inning I was really feeling my way through it but once the second inning came around I let it rip.”

Paxton had looked solid in the sim games he had been pitching in on Field 2 in Peoria, but as any pitcher would tell you, it’s impossible to completely replicate true competition. He appeared to pass that test with flying colors on Sunday, putting to use the work he put in during the offseason in Seattle to get back to form after coming off a 2020 back surgery and short return with diminished stuff late in the season.

“Last year was tough for me,” said Paxton. “I didn’t have the velo, the body wasn’t in the right place but I went to work in the offseason and I feel like I am in a really good place now. Seeing those numbers on the field just confirm that I’m back.”

As for the hold up, that is now behind him.

“I would have loved to have pitched in A games from the start but there was nothing I could do about it, nothing anybody could do about it,” he said. “That’s just kind of the situation we were in you know signing when I signed and the way of the world with COVID and everything moving a little slower. It really wasn’t anybody’s fault. I’m just glad it’s taken care of and I am back in A-games.”

Servais said that Paxton would make one more start on turn this spring and that falls on Saturday which could present an interesting situation as that game is against the Mariners Opening Series opponent, the San Francisco Giants. Paxton is currently slotted into the number 3 spot in the rotation after Gonzales and Kikuchi and it would be unusual to throw against your next opponent in a spring game. We will see how that sorts itself out, or not, over the next week.

Of course this game featured more than the pitching with the young ones making noise.

 

Kelenic and Rodríguez both homered off of big leaguers with Kelenic going yard against Freddy Peralta in the second inning and Rodríguez off Brad Boxberger in the seventh.

“Today it was about the pups, the young pups,” said Servais. “Those experiences are just so important for young players even in spring training, it is a Major League game. It’s fun to see those guys show their ability out there, it never ends. They are a lot of fun to be around.”

A year ago this time both Kelenic and Rodríguez in their first big league camp had already been sent down to the minor league side. They were given their first taste of Major League camp and while prized prospects, both looked very young with Kelenic recording just one hit after the first week of games and a just-turned 19-year-old Rodríguez looking overmatched in general. This year, despite the challenges of the shutdown, alternate site and in Rodríguez’s case, injury, it has been a different story for both.

“You just look at how they handle situations down here in these games,” said Servais. “They are facing much older pitchers, guys with tons more experience. At the end of the day they have got to throw to the strike zone as long as those two guys continue to control the zone, no matter what level they are at, they are going to get the results. They will, if you have good process you will get good results.”

The process has been on display with both. You rarely see the wild swing. Both seem to be in favorable counts more often than not. Rodríguez in particular has demonstrated in the past week he can lay off the pitch he can’t handle and is willing to wait for one he can do something with.

“It’s just maturing,” said Servais. “Understanding the more baseball you play the better understanding of how to make adjustments. Just to see them grow before our own eyes, it’s going to be awesome over the next few years.

“I can’t stop smiling thinking of what those guys are going to grow into,” Servais said, noting the defensive plays the two made Sunday as well. “It was a lot of fun to see the present and the future and how it all matches up.”

Mariners Notes

• Another round of cuts are just around the corner with Servais saying Sunday morning to expect the roster to be trimmed Monday or Tuesday. As for the position battles, they may not come down to the end as Servais would like to have the final roster determined ahead of the off day next Sunday.

• Baseball America came out with a list of 25 spring training standouts and on that list was one Mariner: Mitch Haniger.

According to the scout:

“He looks really good. He’s moving around well. He’s playing hard, He’s swinging the bat well. He’s playing good defense. It’s nice to see him healthy and moving around without a limp or any restrictions or hesitations. I think he’ll be an impact guy. He has a chance to get back to the All-Star level we saw. A lot of teams are going to be calling and trying to get him at the trade deadline.”

• I’m not sure how Ty France did not make that list, but he is currently second among qualified hitters in spring training average (.417) and OPS (1.404).

Follow Mariners insider Shannon Drayer on Twitter.

M’s Spring Training Schedule: All remaining games live on 710

Fri, Apr 16 @ 7:10 pm
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Jose Urquidy