PEORIA, Ariz. — If the competition between Nathan Karns and James Paxton for the final spot in the Mariners’ rotation hinges on spring performance…then Karns is now the clear leader.
One day after Paxton failed to retire a batter in the second inning, Karns limited a Texas split squad to one run over 4 2/3 innings in a 7-1 victory at Peoria Stadium.
"It’s not like it’s going to do me any good to sit here and worry about (the competition)," Karns said. "I’m just going to stick to my five-day schedule. Just keep going until they make that decision.
"I don’t want to sit here and think about it. I know Paxton doesn’t want to do that either. It’s just in our best interest to focus on what we can control and let everything else take care of itself."
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The numbers to date: Karns has a 3.29 ERA in 13 2/3 innings through four starts; Paxton is at 9.00 in 11 innings over four starts. Both are in line for two starts.
Karns wobbled at times; he twice issued leadoff walks and threw just 41 strikes in 81 pitches. But he also struck out seven and proved adept at limiting damage.
"I had a lot of runs," Karns said. "That kept me in the ballgame. If we didn’t have that many runs, I probably wouldn’t have been able to be out there to the point (to be able) to turn things around."
Franklin Gutierrez led off the second inning by crushing a 1-1 fastball for his fourth homer of the spring. The Mariners added three more runs in the inning for a 4-0 lead.
Chris Iannetta walked and came around on singles by Shawn O’Malley and Leonys Martin before O’Malley scored on Nori Aoki’s grounder to second. An error by second baseman Rougned Odor added another run.
Texas got one run back in the third on Ian Desmond’s two-out RBI double, but the Mariners got it back when Nelson Cruz unloaded on a first-pitch fastball from Frank Lopez with one out in the bottom of the inning.
The Mariners (9-8-2) made it 7-1 in the fourth inning on Ketel Marte pulled a two-out RBI double past third baseman Adrian Beltre before scoring on a Kyle Seager single ate up shortstop Elvis Andrus.
PLAY OF THE GAME: Ex-Mariners outfielder James Jones helped bail out an ineffective Nathan Karns by grounding into a double play in the third inning.
Karns had walked the first two batters and was behind 3-1 on Jones, who hit a slow roller to short that the Mariners somehow turned into a double play. Texas settled for one run in what could have been a big inning.
"It was like, `I have to make a pitch,’" Karns said. "We got the double play, and that gave me more confidence there. It was like, `Right now, I feel terrible, but I’m able to pull a rabbit out of the hat.’"
The Mariners traded Jones to the Rangers in the November deal that returned center fielder Leonys Martin.
PLUS: Leonys Martin stole two bases against his former club and is 5-for-5 for the spring…Nathan Karns started the game by walking old friend James Jones but picked him off first — and it wasn’t close…Shawn O’Malley keeps hitting. His singled fueled a four-run second inning…Reliever Tony Zych pitched for the first time since March 11 and worked around a two-out double and a walk in a scoreless eighth inning. He had been sidelined by food poisoning…right-handers Adrian Sampson and Jonathan Aro, who are likely bound for Triple-A Tacoma, had strong outings. Sampson pitched 2 1/3 scoreless innings after replacing Karns. Aro struck out the side in the ninth inning.
MINUS: Not much, Karns fought his control in the early innings but avoided major damage…Jesus Montero was hitless in three at-bats, which dropped his average to .233 (7-for-30)…second-base umpire Dan Bellino blew a call on what should have been a steal by Ketel Marte in the second.
STAT PACK: Mariners pitchers combined for 15 strikeouts and three walks. That boosted their spring totals to 140 and 49.
QUOTABLE: Karns credited catcher Chris Iannetta for getting him through some early problems.
"Iannetta, great job," Karns said. "He recognized that fastballs were staying up in the zone…That just shows that Iannetta is a veteran. His experience. We haven’t worked (together) a whole lot this camp."
SHORT HOPS: First baseman Adam Lind, who has been battling the flu, was a late scratch. Jesus Montero replaced Lind in the lineup…The Rangers sent a split squad to Peoria. They also played the first of two weekend games against Kansas City in San Antonio…The Mariners turned three double plays.
UP NEXT: The Mariners play their final their third and final split-squad doubleheader Saturday — and it’s a day/night doozy: A 1:05 p.m. game in Surprise against Kansas City, and a 7:10 p.m. nightcap against Arizona at Peoria Stadium.
Both opponents are also fielding split-squad teams.
Right-hander Felix Hernandez, in his second spring start, will pitch against the Diamondbacks. He’s slotted for four innings, and the game will be televised by Root Sports Northwest.
Arizona is starting right-hander Tyler Wagner.
Right-hander Taijuan Walker, in his fourth spring start, is scheduled for five innings when he pitches against the Royals, who are starting lefty Matt Strahm.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners