MESA, Ariz. — Let’s start with the good.
Robinson Cano hit three home runs Sunday and drove in seven runs in carrying the Mariners to a 12-9 victory over the Chicago Cubs at Sloan Park.
And while it’s spring training, this was a snapshot of the Cano the Mariners envision as their club leader. He also had a walk and a single in five plate appearances.
"I feel different now," Cano said. "I feel I’m able to use my hips (after being slowed last year by a double sports hernia). When I’m able to use my hips, it’s easier for me to stay back and be able to swing.
"I don’t have to cheat. That pitch inside, last year I couldn’t hit that ball. The last (homer) was middle in, and to be able to hit (it out) to center…"
You get the idea.
Lefty James Paxton might have needed a statement performance, as the Cactus League season entered its final week, to secure the fifth spot in the rotation.
This wasn’t it.
Paxton gave up seven runs in four innings and squandered a 7-1 cushion before the Mariners regained the lead on Seth Smith’s two-run double in the fifth.
"It’s one of those days…," Paxton said. "I not going to let this start bother me. I’m just going to keep on working and get myself ready for the season."
Paxton is locked in competition with right-hander Nathan Karns for the final spot in the Mariners’ rotation. Karns will start Monday against Kansas City at Peoria Stadium.
"I thought (Paxton’s) staff was better today," manager Scott Servais said. "Not his finest outing, but I did think his stuff was better today."
Cano first homer, a two-run shot in the first inning, staked Paxton to a quick lead, but Dexter Fowler started the Chicago first inning with a homer.
Dae-Ho Lee’s two-out single ignited a five-run second inning. After Cubs starter Jason Hammel walked the next two batters, Ketel Marte lofted a pop into short left that shortstop Addison Russell reached but couldn’t hold.
The result was a two-run double.
Cano followed with his second homer, a three-run drive to left, and it was 7-1, but Paxton couldn’t hold it.
After a bee-infestation interruption in the Mariners’ third, the Cubs batted around and scored five runs in the bottom of the inning. They got a two-run homer from Jason Heyward and a three-run shot from Russell.
It was 7-6. But not for long. The Cubs (8-17-1) pulled even in the fourth inning after a leadoff triple by Mark Zagunis. It could have been worse; Paxton stranded three runners.
The Mariners (14-12-2) regained the lead at 9-7 in the fifth inning on Smith’s two-run double. Adam Lind’s RBI single in the sixth extended the lead to 10-7.
Cano’s third homer came in the eighth and made it 12-7 before the Cubs scored single runs in the eighth and ninth innings.
PLAY OF THE GAME: Bees swarmed from, well, who knows where with the Mariners batting in the third inning. They forced Cubs center fielder Jason Heyward into right field. The delay lasted several minutes.
The following inning, members from the Cubs’ relief corps vacated their bullpen in left field and shared space in the Mariners’ bullpen beyond the right-field wall.
PLUS: Donn Roach logged two more scoreless innings in his bid to win the final bullpen job. That makes 12 1/3 scoreless innings in his last five appearances…Joel Peralta pitched a scoreless seventh inning with two strikeouts.
MINUS: Center fielder Nori Aoki took an ill-conceived dive on Mark Zagunis’ leadoff drive in the fourth inning. Aoki didn’t come close to making the catch. Zagunis ended up with a triple that led to the tying run…Chris Taylor’s miserable spring continued when, after replacing Cano at second base, he made an error in the ninth that led to a run.
QUOTABLE: Manager Scott Servais on Robinson Cano prior to Cano’s third homer: "A fan yelled at him, `You hit one to right, you hit one to center, let me see you hit one to center.’ And he did. Special, special player."
SHORT HOPS: While the Mariners used a designated hitter, the Cubs chose to let their pitchers bat…the attendance of 15,438 was a sellout and the largest crowd this spring to see the Mariners…
UP NEXT: It will be Nathan Karns’ turn to make his case in his battle with Paxton for the final rotation spot when the Mariners play a Kansas City split squad at 1:10 p.m. Monday at Peoria Stadium.
The Royals list right-hander Kris Medlen as their starter. The game can be seen on Root Sports Northwest.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners