Seattle Mariners

James Paxton expected to return to Mariners rotation Thursday

AP

Help is on the way.

Seattle Mariners manager Scott Servais said left-hander James Paxton should start Thursday’s series opener in Chicago against the White Sox.

They hope this is the same Paxton who pitched into the eighth inning in each of his past two starts and has a 1.59 ERA and 28 1/3 innings pitched his past four starts. Paxton suffered a bruised left elbow when he was struck by a line drive in the ninth inning of an Aug. 7 victory against the Angels at Safeco Field.

“He came in this morning and gave me the thumbs up,” Servais said. “Pretty much what I expected.

“He’ll throw a bullpen here — a light one — and then slot into the rotation.”

Paxton tossed three scoreless innings in a rehab start for the Tacoma Rainiers on Saturday. He gave up two hits and struck out three.

“He threw the ball well,” Servais said. “Threw all of his pitches. Velocity was good.”

Paxton began the season in Triple-A Tacoma. He made his first Mariners start on June 1 and is 4-5 with a 3.53 ERA in 13 starts since.

Paxton was on his way to potentially his first career complete game with one out in the ninth inning against the Angels on Aug. 7 when Andrelton Simmons hit a line that collided with Paxton’s left elbow.

It forced Paxton to leave the game.

But it could have been much worse.

His expected return would bolster a starting rotation that’s piecemealed arms together since his injury and Taijuan Walker’s demotion.

“The goal is to try to get lined up and get consistent,” Servais said. “We got Felix going in the right direction, Paxton was throwing great before he went down, (Wade) LeBlanc was giving us a chance, (Ariel) Miranda is throwing the ball well since he’s been here, we’d like to eventually, hopefully, fingers crossed we can get Walker going in the right direction and get him back here, too. So we’ll see.”

RELIABLE ZUNINO

When Servais was hired as the Mariners’ manager before the season, he said he at first found it easiest to relate with Mike Zunino.

It helps Servais was a former catcher, himself.

“There are certain players you identify with right away,” Servais said. “You say, ‘Hopefully I can get this guy back on track, just based on what I went through. And it’s not just Mike. There are other guys, as well. But certainly playing the position and looking at the track record and what had happened to that point in his career – he was easy to identify with.”

Zunino started the season at Triple-A Tacoma, but he’s hitting .282 with a .402 on-base percentage in 25 games with the Mariners this season.

He’s also reduced his strikeout rate. He has struck out 20 times in 87 plate appearances this year (22 percent of his at bats). He struck out in 34 percent of his at-bats last year and 33 percent in 2014.

“As crazy as it sounds, catchers usually do figure it out later with the bat,” Servais said. “History tells us. I went through it, myself, in my career. He’s still a young player in my eyes. Even though he has a couple years in the big leagues, there’s still plenty of room to grow. But he’s heading in the right direction, for sure.

“We need him to be a part of what we’re doing here going forward. As a young player, you feel it. ‘Gosh, they don’t believe in me again.’ I just don’t want him to feel that at all.”

M GAMES UPDATE

There’s controversy brewing in the M Games.

It’s Servais’ goofy spin off of the Olympics and it was designed to help lighten the grind of the season.

Then a Nelson Cruz incident happened.

“Nelson Cruz was disqualified from his competition yesterday,” Servais said. “He did not have the official M Games T-shirt when he was competing in the second round of the tape toss.”

Servais then lifted a paper off his desk. Apparently it was a written appeal from the Cruz camp.

“I have a formal appeal for him to be reinstated, which is going to be denied. He’s out,” Servais said.

“Did not go over well.”

Servais said Tuesday will be the biggest day for these so-called M Games.

LOOKING BACK

Bret Boone hit his first major league home run. It was a two-run shot in a 10-8 loss against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on Aug. 22, 1992.

That was in his first stint with the Mariners. He rejoined the team from 2001-05 and went on to earn two Silver Sluggers and three All-Star appearances. Boone finished his career with 252 home runs.

SHORT HOPS

Kyle Seager’s seven-game hitting streak was snapped Sunday when he went 0-for-4. … Leonys Martin extended his hit streak to eight games after going 2-for-4 with a double. … Robinson Cano is one double away from 30 for the season, which would give him 12 consecutive years of at least 30 doubles. He’d be the fourth player in major league history to accomplish that, joining Stan Musial, Tris Speaker and Honus Wagner.

ON TAP

Servais said right-hander and Gonzaga University alum Cody Martin (1-2, 3.14 ERA) will make his second start with the Mariners this year when they open a three-game series against the New York Yankees on Monday. He’ll be opposed by right-hander and former Mariners pitcher Michael Pineda (6-10, 4.89 ERA).

The game can be seen on Root Sports Northwest and heard on 710-AM.

Tuesday’s starter is still undecided, though Servais hinted they are considering Taijuan Walker.

TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677

@TJCotterill

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