Backed by solo home runs from Justin Smoak (second inning) and Kendrys Morales (third), James Paxton made a successful major league debut at Safeco Field Saturday night, allowing two runs (one earned) over 6.0 innings. The Mariners won their second in a row and improved to 65-77.
Paxton, one of the top pitching prospects in Seattle’s organization and a native of Ladner, B.C., topped out in the 95-97 mph range and kept the ball down in the zone throughout his start, which was characterized by his pitching ahead in the count and effectively working both sides of the plate.
Paxton wasn’t threatened until the sixth, when Evan Longoria touched him for a two-run homer. That still left Paxton, whom the Mariners selected in the fourth round of the 2010 amateur draft, with a 4-2 lead. He gave way to Tom Wilhelmsen, having thrown 59 of his 95 pitches for strikes and giving up only four hits and a walk.
“It feels great to get that first one out of the way,” Paxton told Root Sports. “It felt pretty cool to have all these fans out there. It was a great experience.”
Paxton became the third Mariners pitcher to win a starting debut while throwing at least 6.0 innings, following Brandon Maurer and Taijuan Walker, who made his MLB debut Aug. 30 at Houston. Paxton disclosed in his TV interview that his grandfather passed away Saturday morning.
The Mariners had 11 hits off four Tampa pitchers, Morales collecting three, including two RBIs. Smoak (2-for-4) and Michael Saunders both had two hits. The Mariners are 3-4 over their past seven games.
The Mariners took a 3-0 lead on Morales’ two-out RBI single in the first, Justin Smoak’s leadoff solo home run in the second and Morales’ two-out, solo shot in the third. Morales’ homer was his his 19th, Smoak his 16th. Seattle tacked on another run in the fifth on Abraham Almonte’s sacrifice fly, plus a fielder’s choice that scored Nick Franklin, who opened the inning with a double.
Longoria swatted his 29th home run in the sixth after Ben Zobrist reached on a throwing error by Kyle Seager. But Saunders ripped an RBI double in the sixth, scoring Raul Ibanez, extending Seattle’s lead to 5-2.
Nick Franklin’s RBI double in the sixth scored Mike Zunino from first for 6-2 lead.
ARMS: Paxton, a 24-year-old left hander who led AAA Tacoma in most pitching categories this season, is the 11th player to make his MLB debut with Seattle this season. He is also the 12th native of Canada to play for the Mariners.
BATS: Second baseman Nick Franklin went 2-for-4, lifting his batting average to .220 . . . The Mariners gave OF Dustin Ackley the night off . . . The Mariners stranded seven runners, as did the Rays.
QUOTES: “Paxton was really good. He was under control and consistently down with his pitches. He trusted his stuff, and that was evident early on. He commanded the strike zone, which made it easier for him. The No. 1 thing he can draw from this is that he did well against a contending team in the American League. He should draw a lot of confidence from this” — Eric Wedge, Seattle manager.
NOTES: The Mariners Friday recalled LHP Bobby LaFromboise from AAA Tacoma and added him to the active roster. LaFromboise is in his third stint with the Mariners. In four appearances, he has allowed five earned runs. He made his MLB debut April 10 vs. Houston. LaFromboise spent most of the season with AAA Tacoma, going 6-0 with five saves and a 3.39 ERA (23 ER, 61.0 IP) in 45 relief appearances . . . Sunday’s 1:10 p.m. PT game against the Rays will be broadcast on 770-AM (KTTH) radio because of a conflict with the Seahawks game on 710 ESPN Seattle.
NEXT: The series endsSunday with a 1:10 p.m. start. RHP Erasmo Ramirez (5-1, 5.07) will pitch for Seattle opposite LHP Matt Moore (14-3, 3.41). The Mariners close out their six-game home stand with three against the Houston Astros (Monday-Wednesday) before embarking upon the final road trip of the season, through St. Louis, Detroit and Anaheim.