By lifting his arm a little, former University of Kentucky star James Paxton got a big lift from his curveball.
Paxton pitched seven strong innings to win for the first time in three starts, Seth Smith doubled home the go-ahead run in the sixth inning and the Seattle Mariners defeated the Blue Jays 2-1 on Friday night, snapping Toronto’s winning streak at three.
“I know he and (pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr.) have been working on a couple of things and it certainly was evident tonight with his ability to spin it,” Manager Scott Servais said of Paxton. “That was the best curveball he’s had all year.”
Paxton (3-4) allowed one run and three hits. He walked one and struck out nine, one shy of his season-high.
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“Before these starts I was creeping down a little bit and getting too sidearm, getting on the side of the ball,” Paxton said. “It wasn’t allowing me to get on top of the curveball. Bringing my arm up a little bit more has allowed me to get on top of that curveball.”
Paxton’s altered delivery made things easy on Mariners catcher Mike Zunino.
“I don’t think you could put down a wrong sign when a guy is going like that,” Zunino said.
Seattle won consecutive games for the first time since a four-game run from June 30 to July 3.
The Mariners have won five straight and 14 of 20 against AL East opponents this season.
Edwin Diaz worked the eighth and Steve Cishek finished for his 23rd save.
Edwin Encarnacion drew a two-out walk in the ninth and Troy Tulowitzki singled but Cishek ended it by striking out All-Star Michael Saunders.
Paxton retired 16 of the first 17 batters he faced. The only blemish in that span was a one-out solo homer by Saunders in the second.
“He’s always had a really good arm,” Saunders said of Paxton. “Tonight he was hitting his spots, keeping us off balance.”
Back in the lineup after missing Wednesday’s game at Arizona because of a personal matter, Saunders connected in his first career at-bat against the team that drafted him in 2004 and traded him to Toronto before the 2015 season.
After Saunders homered, Paxton set down the next 12 batters before Josh Thole’s one-out walk in the seventh. Josh Donaldson advanced Thole to third with a two-out double but Paxton escaped by striking out Encarnacion.
“That was huge,” Servais said. “He made huge pitches there.”
Blue Jays right-hander Marco Estrada (back) was activated off the 15-day disabled list before the game. The right-hander was placed on the DL on July 6, one day after being named an All-Star for the first time.
Estrada (5-4) allowed two runs and seven hits in six innings. Estrada, who is winless in four starts, had surrendered five hits or fewer in his previous 13 outings.
BLACK AND BLUE
First base umpire Jordan Baker was struck on the left elbow by Nelson Cruz’s foul line drive in the seventh. The impact quickly left a large red mark on Baker’s arm. He put on a wrap between innings and stayed in the game.
Toronto activated LHP Franklin Morales (shoulder) off the 60-day DL and optioned LHP Aaron Loup and INF Andy Burns to Triple-A Buffalo. To make room for Morales, Toronto designated RHP Dustin Antolin for assignment.
Mariners: SS Ketel Marte has been diagnosed with mononucleosis and is expected to go on the 15-day DL on Saturday. Seattle recalled INF Luis Sardinas from Triple-A Tacoma to replace LHP Mike Montgomery, who was traded Wednesday to the Chicago Cubs. The Mariners are expected to recall a pitcher from Tacoma on Saturday.
Blue Jays: C Russell Martin is expected to miss at least two games after he slipped and fell in the shower Thursday. Martin passed out after spending too much time in the sauna and overheating. An MRI showed no structural damage to his knee. … OF Jose Bautista (left big toe) started and played seven innings in RF in his first rehab game at Triple-A Buffalo on Friday. He went 0 for 3 with a strikeout.
Mariners: RHP Hisashi Iwakuma (10-6, 4.01) is 4-0 with a 2.39 ERA in his past four outings and has won nine of his last 11 starts.
Blue Jays: RHP R.A. Dickey (7-10, 4.11) allowed three home runs at Oakland on July 16, losing for the first time in three outings.