Mariners Insider Blog

Takeaways: Paxton rediscovers his early-season form as Mariners beat A’s 8-2

Lefty James Paxton was in top form Friday against Oakland.
Lefty James Paxton was in top form Friday against Oakland. AP

The decision by the Mariners to have every player use Jean Segura’s walkup music Friday made for a great footnote in their 7-2 victory over Oakland. It worked. The Mariners broke an eight-game home losing streak.

It was no surprise that, afterward, the biggest proponent for keeping Segura’s preferred song in place Saturday was Nelson Cruz, who drove in five runs on a pair of RBI singles and a milestone three-run homer — No. 300 of his career.

"I mean, I heard some guys are tired of it already," Cruz said, "but I’m going to dream with that song in my head."

But manager Scott Servais cut to the heart of the matter in his post-game remarks.

"The key to game, for me, is (James) Paxton was really good tonight," Servais said. "I thought we saw a different James Paxton in the last two innings. He just went and turned up the dial.

"That’s what top-of-the-rotation starting pitching does. We hadn’t see that out of him in the last few starts. We saw it in April."

The Mariners are 42-46 with two more games against Oakland before the All-Star break. Even after losing nine of their last 12, they are only four games back in the wild-card race.

But they need a serious second-half push to end a postseason drought that dates to 2001, and that’s almost impossible to envision without dependable consistency from their rotation.

And there’s a corollary. A reliable rotation almost always has a formidable presence at the front. For years that responsibility fell to Felix Hernandez, who might yet resurrect his dominant past. He almost certainly will so on occasion.

It’s more likely, though, that Hernandez fits better, at this stage in his career, lower in the rotation, much as, say, Pedro Martinez did once he reached his early 30s. Martinez was the No. 2 starter in 2004 when Boston won the World Series.

That leaves Paxton as the Mariners’ best candidate to lead the rotation. He looked like a genuine ace through the season’s first month before a strained forearm muscle put on him the disabled list for much of May.

Paxton hasn’t been the same guy since he returned — until Friday night, when he limited the Athletics to two hits in seven innings.

"It’s getting closer," he said. "Just getting more comfortable. Used the changeup again tonight, and it’s feeling good. Moving the fastball around a little bit. Then I humped it up in the end a little bit to get through those last two (innings)."

It’s no coincidence the Mariners plan to have Paxton open their post-break schedule July 14 against the White Sox in Chicago. Hernandez is slotted for the second game after the break.

Three takeaways from Friday’s victory:

***A baserunning plus: The Mariners have taken heat recently for a series of poor baserunning decisions — only Toronto grades out worse on the bases — but Robinson Cano scored the go-ahead run Friday on, literally, a heads-up play.

Cano was at third base with one out in the third inning when Kyle Seager hit a fly to Rajai Davis is fairly short center field. Davis has three assists this season and 54 in his 12-year career. So he’s got a reasonable arm.

The standard play for a runner at third is to tag up and take a few steps toward the plate in hopes of forcing an off-line throw. Cano did that, and then kept coming as Davis showed no urgency in throwing the ball.

Cano scored, and the Mariners had a 3-2 lead, which is how the game stayed until Cruz’s three-run homer keyed a four-run eighth inning.

"After it being reported that our baserunning is so bad," Servais noted wryly, "it was nice to see it. Hopefully, that helps our numbers. It wasn’t a very deep fly ball. (Cano) came off the bag and kept his head up.

"We’ve talked about keeping your head up and taking what's there. If it’s not there, don’t push the envelope. It was a nice play."

***Zep slipping: Matchup lefty reliever Marc Rzepczynski faced one hitter Friday: Yonder Alonso. It was a left-on-left matchup, and Alonso lined a first-pitch single.

Rzepczynski is suddenly struggling in his specialty role. Eight of the last 12 lefties that he’s faced have reached base. Those struggles date to June 13, and his ERA jumped from 1.23 to 3.31 over those eight appearances.

***Just Cruzin’: Cruz went 3-for-4 and drove in five runs. He had RBI singles in the first and third innings and just missed a homer in the fifth before launching a 433-foot moonshot with two runners on base in the eighth.

Cruz now leads the majors with 68 RBIs.  

Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners