Seattle Mariners: James Paxton Continues Dominant Streak

Move over, King Felix. James Paxton, working on a 21-inning scoreless streak, has been the pitcher to fear on the Seattle Mariners through the first two weeks of the season.

The Seattle Mariners can’t be too happy with their 4-8 start to the 2017 season. Though they have won their last two games to begin moving in the right direction, they’re still four games behind the division-leading Houston Astros. While the M’s and their fans will hope the team continues to shake off the early rust, the one thing they can be very excited about right now is pitcher James Paxton.

The 28-year-old left-hander has kicked off the year with 21 scoreless innings over his first three starts. This isn’t a case of good fortune in wriggling out of trouble, either: Paxton has been dominant in these early performances. He has allowed just eight hits and four walks while striking out 22.

All three outings have come against AL West foes, teams the Mariners will need to defeat consistently if they want to reach their goal of capturing the division crown. These rivals boast some talented lineups, too. Perhaps most impressively, Paxton appears to be outdoing himself with each start.

In his season debut on April 5, Paxton held the Astros to just two hits in six innings. Five days later he logged seven frames against that same Houston team, allowing four hits and striking out eight. Last night he turned in his best showing of the young campaign versus the Texas Rangers. Paxton went eight masterful frames, surrendering only two hits and a walk while racking up nine strikeouts.

Paxton has been credited with a win in two of his outings, accounting for half of Seattle’s victory total thus far. He would have likely gotten a third if not for the bullpen giving up the lead in his first start. (The M’s went on to lose that one in 13 innings.) Point being that although wins haven’t come that easy for the Mariners, Paxton is giving his club a golden opportunity every time he steps on the mound.

A fourth round selection of Seattle’s in 2010, Paxton has posted solid results as a major leaguer up to this point, though he has yet to put together that one “representative” season. He came the closest last year by making a career-high 20 starts (121 IP) to the tune of a 3.79 ERA. If Paxton is really turning the corner in his fifth MLB campaign, it would be welcome news to this Mariners ball club.

Paxton certainly isn’t the only Seattle rotation member off to a good start; Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma also sport sub-3.00 ERAs two weeks into the season. The pair of veterans have their respective question marks, however. Though King Felix has been the Mariners’ bona fide ace for years, he hasn’t quite lived up to his usual high standards the last couple seasons. Will 2017 be more of the same, or will the former Cy Young winner figure out how to pitch effectively with diminishing stuff?

The 36-year-old Iwakuma has been an injury risk in the past and last year he produced an ERA above 4.00 for the first time in his MLB career. He’s off to a solid start this year, but the three home runs allowed in 12 innings could be a troubling sign.

Of course, offseason trade acquisition Drew Smyly – another veteran pitcher expected to play a key role this year – is out with an elbow injury and won’t return for at least several more weeks. If Paxton comes into his own and emerges as a true leader on the staff, it will provide the M’s with some much needed insurance for the uncertainties on their staff.

Entering the season, the Mariners would have likely been satisfied with Paxton becoming a dependable number-three guy. Right now he’s pitching like an ace, and they’ll take it as long as they can get it. He’ll try to keep his scoreless streak alive next Thursday night against the A’s in Oakland.

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