Seattle Mariners

James Paxton will return to Mariners rotation this weekend, and they need him ‘in the worst way’

Seattle Mariners starting pitcher James Paxton stands in the dugout after pitching against the Colorado Rockies in the seventh inning during a baseball game, Saturday, July 7, 2018, in Seattle. (AP Photo/John Froschauer)
Seattle Mariners starting pitcher James Paxton stands in the dugout after pitching against the Colorado Rockies in the seventh inning during a baseball game, Saturday, July 7, 2018, in Seattle. (AP Photo/John Froschauer) AP

The Seattle Mariners will activate James Paxton off of the disabled list to start Saturday’s game in Oakland against the Athletics.

That’s what manager Scott Servais confirmed to reporters Wednesday morning in San Diego with Paxton revving up his bullpen workout to return from a bruised left forearm.

The Mariners’ ace lefty hasn’t pitched since Aug. 14 in Oakland when he took a 96-mph comebacker off of his throwing arm. He exited having allowed two hits, a run and one out on 13 pitches.

So he really hasn’t pitched in a game since he allowed four runs in 5 2/3 innings against the Astros on Aug. 9.

But the Mariners need him. Boy, do they need him.

“We certainly need him in the worst way,” Servais said just before the Mariners left Safeco Field for their current road trip.

And that was before they lost lefty starter Marco Gonzales to the 10-day disabled list on Monday because of a muscle strain in his neck.

But they need Paxton healthy. Paxton is 10-5 with a 3.68 ERA this season.

“Pax is on schedule,” Servais said Wednesday. “Bullpens and everything have been really good. So he’ll pitch Saturday and he should be 100 percent ready to go.”

The Mariners had talked about possibly bringing Paxton back sooner, but they didn’t want to subject him to a bat and a batter’s box with the Mariners playing five consecutive games in National League parks against the Diamondbacks and Padres.

Except with Seattle’s 2-1 loss to the Padres on Tuesday night, they entered Wednesday trailing the surging (yes, still) Oakland Athletics by 5.5 games for the American League’s final wild card spot to the playoffs.

They begin a four-game series – in what should say, a pivotal four-game series – in Oakland on Thursday.

The Mariners lined up lefty Wade LeBlanc to start the series opener on Thursday and Mike Leake to start Friday before Paxton goes Saturday and Servais said Felix Hernandez would start Sunday after he allowed two runs in seven innings to the Padres on Tuesday.

With the Mariners’ off day on Monday, LeBlanc and Leake can pitch against the A’s on regular four days of rest.

But they’ve needed Paxton back in this rotation. They really need him this weekend in Oakland.

Just ask Servais.

“We need James Paxton back,” Servais said. “We’re just limited in the depth and the guys we can bring up and slide into that spot.”

Although, the Mariners do have two more days until the Aug. 31 waiver “trade deadline” (they can acquire players after that date, but those players would not be eligible to play in the postseason).

Seattle Mariners starting pitcher Felix Hernandez works against a San Diego Padres batter during the first inning of a baseball game, Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2018, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull) Gregory Bull AP

Better Felix

Servais went back to look at the tape of that start from Felix Hernandez on Tuesday night. Was it just Hernandez taking advantage of a young Padres squad, or did he find something that can stick?

Hernandez struck out a season-high nine batters and looked slightly like the Hernandez of old, allowing two runs in seven innings and doing so after allowing a home run on the first pitch he threw to center fielder Travis Jankowski.

But also much like the Hernandez of old, he got no run support from the Mariners offense, exiting to a 2-0 deficit before Nelson Cruz supplied the only run with a solo homer in the ninth inning.

Moving on, though …

“Going back and looking at the game, his location was really good,” Servais said. “He made a couple mistakes, but he did really good.

“The ball was down and the curveball was really good, but sometimes when you’re sitting in the end of the dugout off to the side, you don’t get the true perspective. A few of the pitching guys looked at the game again and Felix really did execute very well.”

That was a continuation off of Hernandez’s previous start, especially in the final three scoreless innings he tossed against the Astros.

He sort of ran into a mechanical adjustment but pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. and the rest of the staff backed up what they saw with their own eyes through video and data. Hernandez averaged 91.7 mph on his four-season fastball and 90.6 on his sinker on Tuesday night, according to Brooks Baseball, which is the highest combined velocity he’s had on those two pitches all season.

That’s something.

“Mechanically he’s adjusted, and his throwing program – he’s trying to go out and play catch every day more like on a reliever’s-type thing,” Servais said. “So the volume isn’t big but the fact that he’s doing it more frequently is a good thing and the results have been pretty good the past few times.

“Felix in the past didn’t like throwing an extended bullpen session (between starts),” Servais said. “Now it’s more frequent but less volume. It’s just going out and playing the flat ground catch and not getting on the mound.”

And he certainly had better command than past starts.

“It’s about the command,” Servais said. “When you don’t’ throw 95, the command has to be really good and locate it on the edges, stay in good counts and have a really good secondary pitch that you can throw behind in the count, like a 3-2 curveball that you can land. Those are really big when you don’t throw 95.”

On tap

Has it been mentioned how pivotal this four-game series in Oakland will be? The Mariners will start left-hander Wade LeBlanc (7-3, 3.92 ERA) in the series opener at 7:05 p.m. Thursday and Oakland had yet to name its starter. The game will broadcast on Root Sports and 770-AM radio.

TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677; Twitter: @TJCotterill