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Mariners’ James Paxton changes arm slot and attitude, finds success

After his disastrous start last week in San Diego, James Paxton was given a little push by Mariners manager Scott Servais, who told the media the following day that Paxton needed to step up, develop a little chip on his shoulder and realize that this was his time to show what he could do. Monday night at Safeco Field, we saw that.

Six innings of five-hit ball, including 10 strikeouts and just one walk against a red-hot Indians team, was quite a statement from Paxton, who had failed to secure the fifth spot in the rotation in spring training. Hitting 100 mph on the radar gun several times Monday was the exclamation point. Paxton has put in good work in Triple-A, which included a change of mechanics that brought him closer to a three-quarter arm slot rather than the more over-the-top delivery we had seen from him.

Recap: Mariners lose 3-1 | Photos

“It just feels natural coming out from that slot,” Paxton said following the Mariners’ 3-1 loss. “I was just working on getting everything on target and staying through the glove instead of to it and it worked out really good.”

Triple-A pitching coach Lance Painter, who has worked with Paxton throughout his career in the organization, suggested the change.

“I was getting way too high on the front side,” Paxton said. “It wasn’t a point of strength for me to throw from. Paint didn’t think it looked right.”

To illustrate the point, Painter had Paxton field a ground ball and throw it to first base. That, he told Paxton, was his natural arm slot. Paxton discovered that once he was able to repeat it, he had more success hitting the inside corner, which opened up the outside for him.

Paxton had no trouble hitting his spots Monday night. He threw 66 four-seamers – 48 for strikes, 12 swing-and-miss – and topped out at 101 mph, something he said he had never done before. As for the mental adjustment, Servais had a number of talks with Paxton after the San Diego start.

“He told me to let it come out,” Paxton said. “I’ve always been an internalizer and didn’t really show a lot of emotion and he wanted me to show a little emotion today, so I was trying to let that out a little more.”

The emotion was on display at the end of the first inning when Paxton, usually stoic on the hill, punched his glove coming off the field.

“I just told myself I am going to go out there and pitch with a little attitude,” he said. “Try to walk around and have more bravado, give energy to the team, get fired up after innings and cheer the guys on when they make a good play, just be more vocal.”

Paxton appeared to be as comfortable with the mental adjustment as he was with the new mechanics. While he didn’t get the win, the adjustments showed what he is capable of doing and that is a huge step forward.