James Paxton pitched seven dominant innings, and Nelson Cruz paced a balanced attack with three hits Monday as the Mariners opened their home schedule with a 6-0 victory over the Houston Astros at Safeco Field.
Three takeaways from Monday’s victory:
***Paxton’s progress: After working six scoreless innings April 5 in a no-decision at Houston, lefty James Paxton was even better Monday in the rematch when he limited the Astros to four singles while striking out eight.
The Mariners have been searching for years for an heir apparent to Felix Hernandez as their staff ace. It’s too early to pass that baton to Paxton. Remember Taijuan Walker gave up four runs a year ago in 25 April innings before fading.
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But Paxton began making major strides last season in evolving into a front-of-the-rotation starter. And he now joins Hernandez as the only starter in franchise history to open a season with two scoreless starts of six or more innings
***Segura concerns: Shortstop Jean Segura left Monday’s game in the fourth inning because of what the Mariners are calling a slightly strained right hamstring. Club officials will know more Tuesday but, for now, don’t believe it’s serious.
Even so, the injury puts the Mariners in a pinch. Not only has Segura been their most consistent bat through the first eight games at 10-for-32 (.313), his absence forces Taylor Motter to short and leaves the roster without a backup infielder.
Had Robinson Cano been unable to continue Monday after fouling a ball off his foot, the Mariners would have used catcher Carlos Ruiz as an infielder. Ruiz made a single one-inning appearance at third base for the Phillies in 2008 and 2011.
It’s hard to believe the Mariners won’t make a move, at least a temporary one, if Segura isn’t available for Tuesday’s game. Help is just 30 miles away because Triple-A Tacoma will be in town for its home opener.
Shawn O’Malley hasn’t yet started a rehab assignment in recovering from an appendectomy and shoulder ailment. The only other infielders on the 40-man roster are first baseman Dan Vogelbach and first baseman/third baseman D.J. Peterson.
If the Mariners choose to add someone to the roster, which would require a corresponding space-clearing move, candidates would include Mike Freeman, Tyler Smith and Gordon Beckham.
Cruz breaks out: Nelson Cruz went 3-for-4 with a key two-run single Monday after entering the game at 2-for-25. That’s good news because Cano showed signs the last two days of shaking an early slump. Kyle Seager is also swinging better.
A lack of production by those three played a key crucial role in the Mariners’ early struggles. The problem hasn’t been a lack of scoring chances; it’s been the inability to turn those chances into runs. The Mariners are 11-for-72 with runners in scoring position.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners