HOUSTON — James Paxton is looking forward to throwing his first pitch as a professional in his native country Monday night when the Mariners open a four-game series against the Blue Jays in Toronto.
No, it’s not exactly a homecoming.
Paxton, 25, was born three time zones and more than 2,000 miles away in the Vancouver suburb of Richmond in British Columbia. And yet…
“It’s still Canada,” he said. “It’ll still be fun. It’ll be special to throw in Canada. I’ll have some family there also. I have a cousin who lives there. His family. They’ll be coming to the game.
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“I also have a good friend who lives and works there.”
Paxton missed nearly four months this season while recovering from a strained back muscle — and some minor shoulder soreness that surfaced early in his rehab work from that injury.
But he continues to emerge as a key element is what has been, statistically, the American League’s best rotation by going 6-3 with a 2.06 ERA in his 11 starts.
“I keep telling you guys,” manager Lloyd McClendon said, “he’s the glue to this rotation. He’s not a fluke. This young man is good. He’s a big Canadian. He’s not scared. He’s pretty tough.”
Paxton had to think hard when asked to recall the last time he threw a pitch in Canada.
“When would that have been?” he said. “It would have been summer league on my first summer-ball team out of Kelowna, which is in British Columbia.
“I went to (college in) Kentucky and came back for my first summer-ball team. That would have been the last time I pitched in Canada. That was the summer of 2007. Seven years…it’s crazy.”
Chris Young’s status in the rotation is iffy again after getting shelled for seven runs in three-plus innings Saturday in a 10-1 loss to the Astros.
Young is 12-9 with a 3.65 ERA overall in 30 games, but he is winless in his last five starts while allowing 17 earned runs and 27 hits in 18 1/3 innings.
“We’re talking (about alternatives),” McClendon said. “We haven’t come to any decision yet. We’ll see.”
Those alternatives appear limited to Erasmo Ramirez, who worked four innings Saturday in relief of Young, or a bullpen day with Tom Wilhelmsen as the likely starter.
McClendon all but ruled out a return by rookie lefty Roenis Elias, who underwent an magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) exam Friday in Seattle on his sore elbow.
Results from that MRI are expected Monday. But even if they show no damage — which is what club officials expect — Elias is unlikely to replace Young for Thursday’s game at Toronto.
“Maybe bullpen,” McClendon said, “but I think we’ve probably maxed him out for his innings as a starter for this year. We’ve got to think about his future. He’s been stressed.”
Elias has already pitched roughly 25 innings more this season than in 2013.
NON-SUPPORT FOR HERNANDEZ
The Mariners’ ongoing lack of support for long-time ace Felix Hernandez is reaching epic proportions, according to research by ESPN Stats and Info.
When Hernandez got a no-decision Thursday against the Angels, it marked the 16th time in his career that he failed to get a victory in a game when he struck out 10 or more batters and did not allow an earned run.
Over the last 100 years, only three pitchers had more such games: Nolan (19), Chris Short (18) and Vida Blue (17). Three others matched Hernandez with 16: Jake Peavy, Sam McDowell and Bob Veale.
Further, the Mariners failed to score more than three runs in 52.5 percent of Hernandez’s career starts (158 of 301).
Only two pitchers in the post-1968 expansion era received less support in their careers: Jon Matlack (54.1 percent; 172 of 318), and Steve Rogers (52.7, 207 of 393).
Hernandez is scheduled to start Tuesday at Toronto and on Sept. 28 in the regular-season finale against the Angels at Safeco Field.
The Mariners finished with a 10-9 advantage in the season series against the Astros for the second straight year…Michael Saunders started in right field and went 2-for-3 with a two-run homer. He was 2-for-18 in seven previous games since returning from nearly two months on the disabled list…First baseman Logan Morrison went 1-for-3 with a walk and is batting .308 (45-for-146) in 45 games since July 29…Houston second baseman Jose Altuve went 2-for-4 and now has 220 hits. He is the first player to reach 220 since Ichiro Suzuki had 225 in 2009 for the Mariners.
It was 12 years ago Monday — Sept. 22, 2002 — that Willie Bloomquist, in his second career start, went 4-for-4 with two doubles and two RBIs in a 3-2 victory at Anaheim.
Bloomquist, now 36, is recovering from season-ending knee surgery after batting .278 with one homer and 14 RBIs in 47 games. He is under contract with the Mariners through next season.
The Mariners open their final road series of the season at 4:07 p.m. Pacific time Monday when they play the Blue Jays in the first of four games at the Rogers Centre in Toronto.
Left-hander James Paxton (6-3 with a 2.06 ERA) will oppose Toronto lefty J.A. Happ (9-11, 4.35). Root Sports will televise the game.
The series continues through Thursday before the Mariners conclude the regular season next weekend with three games against the Los Angeles Angels at Safeco Field.