You could almost hear the collective sigh across the Pacific Northwest.
But it had to be one of relief that James Paxton did not exit his start with the Seattle Mariners for much more gloom reasons.
The Mariners announced Paxton was experiencing lower back stiffness and that’s why they pulled him with two outs in the first inning in Thursday’s start against the Los Angeles Angels.
He had allowed two home runs, a solo shot to David Fletcher and a two-run blast from Albert Pujols. He exited with the Mariners trailing, 3-1.
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He appeared to stretch his lower back, then sway side to side to stretch some more before Mariners trainer Matt Toth ran out to attend to him, followed by pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. and manager Scott Servais. He had topped out with a 95.4-mph fastball against Mike Trout, who singled.
“Nothing serious,” Mariners manager Scott Servais told reporters afterward. “He’s been checked out by doctors here. Obviously that was his last outing before the All-Star break so he’ll have some time to calm it down and recoup and I fully expect him to come out of the break and be ready to go.”
Paxton threw 17 pitches.
“I was hoping it would loosen up,” Paxton said. “I went into the game hoping the adrenaline would get me through it. But I wasn’t getting extension, there was no life on the ball and they were just floating in there.
“When it’s coming in there and there’s no life on it – for me, it’s not going to go well.”
Felix Hernandez is currently on the Mariners’ 10-day disabled list because of back stiffness.
Paxton said he didn’t get any instructions for what sort of work he’ll need to do to be ready by the end of the All-Star break, but he took some muscle relaxers and said he plans to let it relax and calm down.
“I think this is just a really small thing,” Paxton said. “Nothing that will linger or stay around.
“I wanted to go out there and finish strong and help us win the series. It’s all about winning games. They all count. We all want to make it to the postseason. I’m disappointed I wasn’t able to give a good effort. I tried. I really wanted it. I just wasn’t able to do it.”
The Mariners have often said their hope for Paxton this season was that he just stay healthy. He went to some unique lengths this offseason to help ensure that, including going through muscle activation techniques and getting rid of cow milk from his diet (that’s right, no more milkshakes).
He’s previously missed starts for the Mariners because of finger injuries, torn nails, blisters, bruised forearms, a pectoral strain, forearms strain, a contusion in his left elbow and a strained left latissimus dorsi muscle.
“I haven’t had anything really structural, knock on wood,” Paxton said this spring. “Nothing really serious like in the shoulder or elbow. A minor thing in my forearm but it’s wasn’t UCL. Just very odd injuries and the good thing is none of them have reoccurred. None. I’ve learned how to not have that injury occur again.
“So hopefully I’ve checked off some boxes and don’t have to worry about them anymore.”
Now add lower back stiffness.
But the Mariners were likely just being cautious, especially with his history and the All-Star break coming up.
Paxton has already pitched 119 1/3 innings this season in 19 starts. He had 24 starts and threw 136 innings all of last season and 20 starts and 121 innings in 2016.
He entered Thursday with an 8-3 record and 3.49 ERA. Paxton tossed his first career no-hitter and did so on his native Canadian soil against the Toronto Blue Jays on May 8.
It seemed likely the Mariners would send Paxton to the 10-day disabled list on Friday in order to regroup and have enough pitching to get through the three-game series in Colorado before the All-Star break. Paxton wouldn’t have pitched until at least July 20, anyway.
“We’ll talk about it the roster moves that need to happen,” Servais said. “Obviously going into Colorado for the weekend series you want to make sure you have enough pitching to get through that. We’ll make a few roster moves here. We’ll talk about it tonight and get ready to go to Colorado tomorrow.”