Maybe this time, it’s for real. Maybe this time, James Paxton stays healthy and finally completes the leap from immense potential to reliable production. Maybe we are, at last, actually seeing a changing of the guard.
The former University of Kentucky pitcher overmatched the Boston Red Sox on Monday night as the Seattle Mariners opened the three-game series with a 4-0 victory at Safeco Field. He gave up four hits in seven innings while striking out 10 and walking none.
“Good stuff,” Boston Manager John Farrell said. “Good fastball, downhill plane. The ability to throw a backdoor breaking ball to a number of our right-handers for some strikeouts, a cutter to keep guys honest as well.
“That’s the third time he’s pitched against us and he’s been strong in all three.”
Paxton has won his last five starts in improving to 10-3 and lowering his ERA to 2.84. All five of those victories came in July, which means he’s matched a franchise record for victories in a single month.
“My arm just felt really good today,” Paxton said. “I had a big fastball, and it was just coming out easy today. I wasn’t going out there and thinking about throwing 98 or 99 (mph). That’s just what was coming out today.”
This marks the 20th time that a Mariners pitcher won five games in a month. Nobody has ever won six in a month. Paxton will get that opportunity on Sunday when he faces the New York Mets.
“He’s a stud,” third baseman Kyle Seager said. “Anytime he takes the ball, you feel really good about it. When he’s on his game like he was tonight, it’s pretty incredible. There’s not a lot of pitchers who can do what he can do.”
Seager had a leadoff homer that fueled a three-run second inning against Boston starter Eduardo Rodriguez. The Mariners added another run in the fourth inning, and that was it.
Paxton worked through the seventh before Nick Vincent and David Phelps completed the shutout — the Mariners’ ninth shutout victory, which matches Cleveland for the most among American League clubs.
The victory pulled the Mariners back to 50-51, and they can reach .500 again Tuesday when they send long-time ace Felix Hernandez against the Red Sox in the second game of the series.
Maybe that’s how it will be from now on. Paxton at the head of the rotation, followed by Hernandez.