Tacoma Rainiers starter James Paxton was probably already on a plane to Cleveland with the rest of the Seattle Mariners by the time the game against Sacramento ended Sunday.
Paxton threw well and, most important, without any pain, and the Rainiers won, 4-3 in 14 innings over the River Cats, courtesy of a walk-off single by Jesus Montero.
“We had opportunities the whole game,” Rainiers manager Roy Howell said. “We got behind and came back a few times, and kept battling.”
The Mariners placed Paxton on the disabled list April 9 after hurting his back. After a rehab start May 24, Paxton had a sore shoulder, and he was shut down for almost two months.
The left-hander was scheduled to throw 75-80 pitches Sunday, but he looked as though he might come up short when he took a line drive off his left ankle in the second inning. The training staff came onto the field to examine him and kept him in the game.
“(The ball) got me right on the bone part,” he said. “But luckily I’ve got those high cleats that covered it a little bit. I know how the hitters feel now when they foul it off their foot.”
That was the only pain Paxton said he felt. His arm felt fine, and he experienced no lingering pain from his injury. His only real slip-up was in the second inning, when he allowed back-to-back singles and a walk, allowing Daric Barton to score, giving the River Cats a 1-0 lead.
“I’m still missing down a little bit on my fastball,” he said. “Breaking stuff felt really good, curveball and cutter was good, changeup was pretty good.”
The third and fourth innings were much better, with three strikeouts and a single. Paxton lasted 41/3 innings, throwing 78 pitches, 47 of them for strikes. He finished with six hits and three walks and five strikeouts, touching 95 mph with his fastball.
“Just kind of finding that release point, still, for my fastball. But I feel like I took a good step forward,” he said.
After the game, he rejoined the Mariners. He could return to the big league lineup as early as Aug. 2.
In the late nightcap of a doubleheader Saturday, Gabriel Noriega drove in Nate Tenbrink with an RBI double in the fifth, but it wasn’t enough as Sacramento beat Tacoma, 2-1 in seven innings.
The Rainiers send right-hander Erasmo Ramirez (2-4, 4.12 ERA) against River Cats righty Matt Buschmann (6-5, 5.23) at 11:35 a.m. Monday at Cheney Stadium to close out the series.
The game will be broadcast on 850-AM.