Left-handed pitcher James Paxton, pain-free in his recovery from a strained back muscle, is now on target to rejoin the Seattle Mariners’ rotation within two weeks.
Paxton joined the club Saturday at Angel Stadium for his regular bullpen workout as the next step toward a scheduled 60-pitch outing Tuesday for Triple-A Tacoma against Las Vegas (Mets) at Cheney Stadium.
“My routine is pretty much back to the way it was when I was pitching,” Paxton said. “Waiter (pitching coach Rick Waits) was telling me that he wants me to act like it’s just a normal (routine) for what I do between starts.”
Manager Lloyd McClendon outlined a best-case scenario that has Paxton making 60 pitches Tuesday and increasing to 75 pitches for a projected July 27 start against Sacramento (A’s).
That could position Paxton for an early August return to the Mariners.
“You, obviously, think about it a little bit,” he said. “But I’m just trying to focus on one day at a time. Right now, I was focusing on the work I had to do today and getting ready for the game on Tuesday.”
Paxton began his latest rehab assignment Thursday by throwing 42 pitches over 22/3 innings at Single-A Everett. The results were mixed — two runs and two hits, one walk and two strikeouts — but encouraging.
“The ball was coming out really well,” Paxton said. “No pain at all, so that was great. I’m finally getting some of that feel back for my pitches. I had that adrenaline jump, and I was kind of all over the place.
“But I threw a bullpen (Saturday), and I was feeling really good. I was hitting my spots. I’m excited for my next time out.”
That “no pain” is the biggest factor.
Paxton was diagnosed with a strained left latissimus dorsi muscle after his April 8 start against the Angels at Safeco Field. An earlier rehab assignment ended when shoulder soreness surfaced after his May 24 start at Tacoma.
“Nothing this time,” he emphasized. “Feel great. Bullpen went great today, so we’re rolling forward.”
McClendon still hasn’t tipped his hand, but it appears increasingly likely that right-hander Erasmo Ramirez will be recalled from Tacoma to start Tuesday against the New York Mets at Safeco Field.
Ramirez, 24, pitched six innings Thursday in the Rainiers’ victory over Reno (Diamondbacks). That puts him on schedule to start Tuesday for the Mariners on normal rest.
The Mariners currently list Tuesday’s starter as “to be announced.”
Ramirez opened the season in the big-league rotation and was 1-4 with a 4.58 ERA in 11 starts. He is 2-4 with a 4.12 ERA in nine starts at Tacoma.
Another rehabbing lefty, Danny Hultzen, remains on pace to return to competitive action in the Arizona Fall League.
Hultzen, 24, underwent shoulder surgery on Oct. 1, 2013, to repair a partial tear of his rotator cuff, his labrum and capsule. He was the second overall pick in the 2011 draft.
“He’s on a mound,” general manager Jack Zduriencik said, “and he’s throwing about 75 percent. He’s pain-free, and he seems to be coming along very nicely.”
Baseball America rated Hultzen among the game’s top 30 prospects before the 2012 and 2013 seasons. He was 4-1 with a 2.05 ERA in six starts last season at Triple-A Tacoma before the injury forced him to the disabled list.
Hultzen is 14-8 with a 2.82 ERA in 32 career minor-league starts.
Friday night’s 3-2 loss in 16 innings was the Mariners’ fifth walk-off loss of the season. And that leads us to some grim stats.
The Mariners lead the majors with 54 walk-off losses since 2010. The Mets rank second in that span with 44.
It also was the Mariners’ 11th walk-off loss at Angel Stadium since 2009. That is the most by any club on the road against a single opponent during that span.
Some numbers-crunching shows how much the Mariners are investing in 18-year-old outfielders Alex Jackson and Gareth Morgan, their first two selections in the June draft.
The $2 million bonus that Morgan received as the 74th overall pick was 163 percent higher than its slot value of $760,300. Percentage-wise, that makes his deal the biggest over-slot signing this year among the 60 largest bonuses.
The numbers, compiled by Baseball America, became final Friday when the deadline passed for signing players.
Jackson’s $4.2 million bonus as the sixth overall selection was the year’s third-richest signing bonus and $624,100 more than the assigned slot price.
The only signing among the 30 richest deals to exceed the slot price by more than that was pitcher Carlos Rondon by the Chicago White Sox. He was the third overall pick but signed the year’s top deal at $6,582,000 — or $860,500 over slot.
And what are the Mariners getting so far for their combined $6.2 million? Jackson and Morgan had each played 18 games through Friday at Peoria in the Arizona Rookie League.
Jackson had a .296 batting average, .342 on-base percentage and .507 slugging percentage, with two home runs and 14 RBIs. Morgan had a .188/.316/.281 slash, with no homers and seven RBIs.
Robinson Cano entered Saturday as the American League leader in batting average at .340 after going 4-for-6 in Friday’s game. He was hitting .452 (28-for-62) over his past 15 games. He has never finished higher than third in the league in batting. … Hisashi Iwakuma didn’t allow a walk Friday in his seven innings. It was the ninth time in his 15 starts that he hasn’t walked a batter. … Reliever Yoervis Medina’s scoreless streak of 152/3 innings is the longest active streak in the majors. … Brandon Maurer has not allowed a run in 112/3 innings over seven appearances since shifting to the bullpen. He has allowed four hits while walking two and striking out 14.
It was one year ago Sunday — July 20, 2013 — that the Mariners managed just one hit but still beat the Astros, 4-2, in Houston.
Trailing 2-0 in the sixth, the Mariners pulled even by scoring twice on two walks, two passed balls and a sacrifice fly. Their only hit was Michael Saunders’ two-out, two-run double in the seventh.
It marked only the fourth time since 1900 that a club scored four or more runs while getting fewer than two hits.
The Mariners and Angels complete their three-game weekend series at 12:35 p.m. Sunday at Angel Stadium.
Right-hander Chris Young (8-6, 3.15 ERA) will face Los Angeles lefty Tyler Skaggs (5-5, 4.50). Root Sports will broadcast the game.
The Mariners return Monday to Safeco Field to start a seven-game homestand. First up: three games against the New York Mets, who are coming to Seattle for the first time since 2005.
The homestand concludes next weekend with four games against the Baltimore Orioles.