It’s a confident James Paxton who will take the mound at 2:10 p.m. Monday when Mariners open their home schedule against the Houston Astros at Safeco Field.
A rough season-opening road trip is in the rear-view mirror and, personally, Paxton is looking to build off his six shutout innings against these same Astros in a no-decision last Wednesday in Houston.
"It’s going to be a lot of fun," he said. "I know we’re all looking forward to getting front of our fans in Seattle playing some baseball at Safeco."
Paxton has been here before — starting the home opener — and it didn’t go particularly well. He gave up three first-inning runs to the Angels on April 8, 2014.
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The Mariners rallied for a 5-3 victory, which went to Paxton, but he left the game after five innings because of a strained back muscle (the left latissimus dorsi). He later encountered shoulder inflammation while on a May rehab assignment.
Bottom line: Paxton didn’t pitch again in a big-league game until August.
All ancient history.
"Personally for me," he said, "I feel this is my season to take off. I was able to get to a place last year that I felt I’ve been trying to find for a long time. Now, I feel I’ve got that.
"I’m ready to be who I want to be and who everyone thinks I can be."
That readiness includes the maturity to embrace the hoopla that surrounds any opening day while still keeping it in perspective.
"As soon as they set the rotation at the end of spring training," Paxton said, "I was aware that I was going to be starting the first game at home. It’s exciting. I’ve done it once before. It’s a lot of fun.
"The energy in the building and being in front of our own fans for the first time, it’s a special thing. There’s lots going on. Last time, I tried to stuff it down and not react to all of the energy in the building.
"But I’ve kind of learned that I’ve got to use the energy in the building and have it take me to the next level. Just let the fans energize me and use it. I think these fans are ready for this team to win, and we are, too.
"I feel really good about our team. I know we’ve had a little bit of a rough start, but things are going to turn around. This team is going to be right where we need to be."
Paxton didn’t argue when told that he sounded more confident than at any previous point since reaching the big leagues late in the 2013 season.
"Some of it is experience," he said. "I’ve learned a lot over the past few years. Each game is just another game.. You just take it one pitch at a time.
"You can’t let any situation, or what’s going on around the league, affect how you’re going to play that game. It’s just one pitch at a time and give it everything you’ve got."
Manager Scott Servais noted: "I think you see it when he takes the field. The guys behind him know that we’ve got a guy out there who can really shut people down.
"The amazing thing on Paxton is his ability to maintain his stuff over the course of the game. You look up at 100 pitches, and it’s still 96-97 miles an hour. That’s not easy to do."
The heightened confidence, Paxton said, is partly due to his time spent with a sports psychologist: "Baseball is such a mental game. Being in the right place mentally can change the way you look at everything."
On Monday, that view will be as the center of attention for an anticipated sellout crowd that will include friends and family from Seattle and his childhood home near Vancouver.
His expectation? "It’ll be a fun time," he said, confidently.
The Mariners plan to mark the start of their 40th anniversary home season Monday by having players from each of their four decades throw out ceremonial first pitches.
The four former players are Ruppert Jones, Harold Reynolds, Mark McLemore and Willie Bloomquist. Receiving those pitches with be four members of the club’s Hall of Fame: Alvin Davis, Edgar Martinez, Dan Wilson and Jamie Moyer.
All gates at Safeco Field open at 11:40 a.m. for the 2:10 p.m. game. Broadcasters Rick Rizzs and Aaron Goldsmith will join the Mariner Moose in a countdown at the Home Plate Gate.
Pre-game activities start at 1:30 p.m. with the national anthem by U.S. Naval Petty Officer 1st Class Generald Wilson, Ret. Colors will be presented by the Kitsap Fire Fighters Union Honor Guard and Lakewood Police Department.
Sophia Robinson, 8, of Anchorage will christen the field with the ceremonial first run around the bases.
All fans in attendance will receive a schedule magnet.
Three things to note heading into Monday’s pitching matchup between James Paxton and Houston’s Charlie Morton:
***Paxton pitched six shutout innings last Wednesday against the Astros in Houston and is 1-2 with a 3.90 ERA against them in five career starts. Morton had not faced the Mariners before allowing two runs and five hits in six innings.
***Evan Gattis is 4-for-12 in his career against Paxton, including a double in last week’s game. George Springer is just 3-for-15 against Paxton, but two of the hits are home runs.
***Jean Segura is just 5-for-25 in his career against Morton, but he was 2-for-3 with a two-run homer last week at Minute Maid Park. No other Mariner has faced Morton more than six times.
It was a rough Saturday for the Mariners affiliates and particularly rough for their two West Coast clubs.
Triple-A Tacoma gave up three runs in the eighth inning in a 6-5 loss at Sacramento (Giants), and Hi-A Modesto gave up four runs in the ninth in a 10-9 walk-off loss at Lake Elsinore.
Double-A Arkansas and Lo-A Clinton also lost. The organization’s four affiliates entered Sunday with a combined 2-8 record.
Tacoma’s Chris Heston struck out nine in five innings; Arkansas second baseman Jay Baum has two hits in all three games and is 6-for-12 overall; and Modesto second baseman Chris Mariscal went 2-for-4 and has reached base safely at least once in 29 straight games dating to last Aug. 4 when he was playing at Clinton.
Mitch Haniger is the eighth rookie in franchise’s 41-year history to hit two homers in the club’s first six games. The others are Ruppert Jones (1997), Juan Bernhardt (1977), Rod Craig (1980), Jim Maler (1982), Danny Tartabull (1986), Greg Pirkl (1994) and Kenji Johjima (2006).
It was 23 years ago Monday — April 10, 1994 — that Randy Johnson passed Mark Langston as the Mariners’ all-time strikeout leader in an otherwise dismal afternoon in Toronto.
Johnson moved past Langston by fanning Mike Huff in the second inning for his 1,079th strikeout as a Mariner. Langston had 1,078 from 1984-89.
Otherwise, it was a grim day. Johnson gave up 11 runs in 2 1/3 innings in a 12-6 loss. He allowed eight hits, including two homers, and walked six.
It’s worth noting that Johnson was picked later that season as an All-Star and finished third in the Cy Young Award balloting.
Johnson and Langston were traded for one another on May 25, 1989 as part of a five-player deal between the Mariners and Montreal Expos.
The Mariners open their home schedule at 2:10 p.m. Monday at Safeco Field with a rematch from the season’s third game when lefty James Paxton (0-0 with an 0.00 ERA) faces Houston right-hander Charlie Morton (0-0, 3.00).
The two matched up April 5 at Minute Maid Park when the Astros pulled out a 5-3 victory in 13 innings when George Springer hit a three-run homer against Chase De Jong.
Monday’s game can be seen on Root Sports Northwest and heard on 710 ESPN and the Mariners Radio Network, including mariners.com (for subscribers to MLB.tv).
The nine-game homestand includes two more game against the Astros before an open date on Thursday. The Mariners then play three weekend games against Texas and three games against Miami before returning to the road,
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners