There was an “oh-no” moment Sunday afternoon when a sharp grounder by former Seattle Mariner Carlos Peguero appeared to strike left-hander James Paxton in the arm or back before caroming into center field.
Paxton has already been slowed this spring by a freak forearm injury, which marked the latest interruption in his promising career. He missed four months in 2014 because of a strained back muscle.
This game against Texas — an 8-0 victory at Peoria Stadium — was Paxton’s Cactus League debut after a three-inning tune-up Tuesday against a collection of minor-leaguers.
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If all goes well, he should be built up sufficiently to take his regular spot when the season begins ... if all goes well.
And then Peguero hits a scorcher back through the box with one out in the fourth inning.
“It went off my glove,” Paxton said afterward while offering a reassuring smile. “It hit off the finger (of the glove). I probably should have had it ... I was in protect-myself mode.”
Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon still decided to end Paxton’s day at that point. Paxton had thrown 61 pitches after being scheduled for 60.
“I knew right away it hit his glove,” McClendon said. “But we had him at 10 to 12 pitches (for that inning). He was at 61 (total); it made no sense for him to start the next hitter.”
Overall, Paxton and McClendon each saw mostly positives. Paxton bounced a few pitches and labored at times in yielding five hits (all singles) and one walk but prevented the Rangers from scoring in his 31/3 innings.
“That was good to get into some situations there (with men on base),” Paxton said. “I made some pitches when I had to, to get out of it.
“Ideally, I’d like to throw less pitches in 31/3 innings, but I’ll tighten things up in the bullpen the next few times and get things ready for the season.”
Plans call for Paxton to get two more spring starts.
“His secondary stuff was not as sharp as it needs to be,” McClendon said, “but that’s to be expected. He’ll go to five (innings) next time out, and he’ll build off of that one.”
While McClendon is confirming little in regard to lining up his rotation beyond identifying Felix Hernandez for the season opener, Paxton is now positioned for the No. 2 spot.
McClendon acknowledges a preference for a right-left arrangement through the five-man unit, which points to Paxton as the likely fit between Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma.
Note that Hernandez started Saturday against the Cubs in Mesa, Arizona; Iwakuma is slotted to pitch Monday in a minor league game to avoid facing the Los Angeles Angels in Tempe, Arizona.
The Mariners open the season with a three-game series against the Angels April 6-8 at Safeco Field. (You don’t have to be clairvoyant to connect the dots — especially since Paxton opened last season by beating the Angels twice.)
McClendon does say this much: “We saw how dominant he could be last year. We need him healthy. It’s vital for our success.”
That starts with staying healthy.