Mariners lefty James Paxton stood in front of his locker Sunday and clinically assessed his performance against the New York Mets.
"It wasn’t my best," he offered. "My location wasn’t very good. My breaking ball wasn’t the best, but I battled, and (catcher Mike Zunino) did great job behind the plate of mixing pitches. We got through it pretty well."
Paxton threw six shutout innings in a 9-1 victory over the Mets. He permitted six hits but didn’t walk a batter while striking out eight.
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That’s where the bar sits at this point for Paxton. The performance he turned in Sunday is viewed as mildly disappointing. Manager Scott Servais noted: "I didn’t even think it was his best stuff."
Fact is, they’re both right.
Paxton’s outing Sunday wasn't as good as some of his recent efforts. For example, he pitched seven shutout innings on fewer pitches against Boston in his previous start.
Asked what it meant that his start Sunday could be viewed as a step back, Paxton cracked a smile before answering.
"That means things are going well," he admitted. "I was able to use the high fastball well today. I got a lot of swings and misses on that. The cutter showed up later in the game. Early, I didn’t have it."
Paxton set a franchise record Sunday by winning a sixth game in a calendar month. Twelve other pitchers previously won five games in a month. Jamie Moyer did it four times. Freddy Garcia did it three times. Nobody had won six.
Paxton is 11-3 overall, and his ERA is down to 2.68, which ranks second in the American League. (Boston lefty Chris Sale is first at 2.37 — and the Mariners can vouch for him; Sale pitched seven shutout innings last Wednesday at Safeco.)
Some other points to note:
***Paxton’s 1.37 ERA in his six July starts is the lowest in a calendar month by a Mariners pitcher since Felix Hernandez had a 1.22 mark in June 2014.
***Paxton has allowed two or fewer runs in six straight starts, which is the longest streak by a Mariners pitcher since Hernandez set an MLB record by going 16 straight starts in 2014 while pitching seven or more innings each time.
***Paxton has not allowed a homer in his last six starts.
***Paxton has 46 strikeouts over 39 1/3 innings in his six starts. It’s been 13 years since an American League lefty won six games and struck out 40 or more in the same calendar month. (Minnesota’s John Santana in August 2004.)
It’s no surprise that Servais cites Paxton as "leading us charging up the mountain" in a bid to gain a postseason berth. Paxton’s next start is Friday in Kansas City, which currently holds the final wild-card spot.
Three takeaways from Sunday’s victory:
***Big guns firing: The Mariners play 21 of their next 28 games on the road and, since Servais says, "To win on the road, you’ve got to hit," it was encouraging Sunday to see Robinson Cano go 2-for-5 and Nelson Cruz hit a homer.
Cruz had not hit a homer since July 17 before launching a 444-foot bomb in the first inning with two runners on base. But the bigger key is Cano; he entered Sunday’s game at 18-for-90 (.200) in July.
"He’s got a great swing," Servais said. "Sometimes, you get off-kilter. You’re not on time. You’re a little late. You’re in-between. It’s good to see him get back today."
***Haniger on the mend: The news Sunday on right fielder Mitch Haniger was encouraging. He might only miss a few weeks after getting hit in the face Saturday by a 95-mph fastball from Mets ace Jacob deGrom.
"Thanks to all of you who reached out," Haniger posted on twitter. "I really appreciate it! It could have been much worse and I feel very lucky!"
Haniger suffered a severe facial laceration on his lip that required plastic surgery, and the swelling on his face is still significant.
"He will be back," Servais said. "There’s no doubt about that. The doctors who looked at it didn't think it would be as long as (originally) anticipated. It’s probably going to be (at least) a couple of weeks."
***Back with a bang: The Mariners replaced Haniger on their roster by summoning Leonys Martin from Triple-A Tacoma, where he spent roughly three months after losing his job as the club’s starting center fielder.
Martin started Sunday in right field — a position he hasn’t played since Aug. 28, 2013. (Coincidentally, that was at Safeco Field while playing for Texas).
Naturally, the first ball hit toward Martin was a severe test: a hooking top-spin liner from Curtis Granderson with one out in the second inning and runners at first and second. The Mariners led 3-0 at the time.
Martin made a diving catch.
"That’s going to be runs scored right there if he doesn’t make that play," Paxton said. "Him making that catch was huge."
Martin wasn’t done. His first at-bat came later in the inning, and his first swing resulted in a 396-foot homer to right field.
"It’s great to have him back and contributing," Servais said. "Everybody loves Leonys’ personality, but you have to do it in-between the lines."
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners