Fans hoping to see a bright performance from Mariners’ left-handed pitching prospect James Paxton were probably still taking their seats early in the first inning Tuesday when they heard a crack.
Las Vegas center fielder Matt den Dekker had blasted Paxton’s fourth pitch — a fastball he left over the plate — to right field for a home run. Two batters later, there was another crack and another home run, also on a Paxton fastball.
Paxton, one of the Mariners’ top prospects on rehab assignment in Tacoma, gave up the two homers for three runs in a 4-0 loss in seven innings to the Las Vegas 51s in the opener of a doubleheader at Cheney Stadium on Tuesday.
Tacoma defeated Las Vegas, 4-3, in the shortened, seven-inning nightcap.
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Paxton was better following the first inning. He retired eight of the next nine batters with commanding fastballs and change-ups. Other than a two-out single to den Dekker in the second, Paxton cruised the rest of the way.
His best showing came when he pitched a 1-2-3 third inning, striking out Josh Satin and Andrew Brown.
Paxton was finished after 60 pitches, having allowed three runs — two earned — with four strikeouts and one walk. The 25-year-old also threw 34 strikes and 26 balls and yielded three hits in three innings pitched.
“No pain or anything. Still a few things I need to do as far making some adjustments — I was drifting a little bit towards first base,” Paxton said. “I wasn’t able to finish things and left the ball up a little bit in the first. Second and third (innings) felt a little bit better. Made good progress tonight.”
According to Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon, Paxton is expected to make one more rehab start in Tacoma. He left a start early with the Mariners on April 8 because of a shoulder strain and returned to action on July 17 with the Single-A Everett Aquasox.
“I think the most important thing is being healthy and making sure nothing is wrong,” Paxton said. “The second thing is starting to tighten things up and get that good feel back.”
Paxton said his change-up was his best pitch on the night, but his other offspeed pitches, like his curveball, still need work.
“It wasn’t too bad. I know I have a better one,” Paxton said. “When I make that adjustment it’s going to get a little bit better. Same with my cutter.”
First baseman Justin Smoak went 0-for-3 at the plate for the Rainiers in the opener. He was optioned to Tacoma on Monday to clear roster space for right-hander Erasmo Ramirez, who was starting for the Mariners.
Tacoma sends Andrew Carraway (4-5, 4.76 ERA) against Las Vegas’ Cory Mazzoni (1-0, 4.76) on Wednesday at 7:05 p.m. at Cheney Stadium.