OAKLAND – The Mariners headline Tuesday night against the A’s at the Coliseum was supposed to be the return of Robinson Cano after his 80-game drug suspension. But that storyline took an early beating in what became a tough 3-2 loss for Seattle.
James Paxton, the left-handed ace of the starting rotation, lasted three batters. Oakland 2B Jed Lowrie hit a laser up the middle that caught Paxton on his left arm.
Lowrie, who later hit a two-run homer that stood as the game’s decider, said, “I thought I hit that ball up the middle harder.”
He’ll get no argument from Paxton.
“It started swelling right away,” he said. “I knew I had to get off the field and get some ice.”
The Seattle medical team was out of the dugout in a flash, and they concurred. Paxton came off the mound toward the ball but didn’t bend over for it. He wandered the infield a bit before leaving the field. X-rays showed no break. But the contusion, manager Scott Servais said, would cost Paxton at least one start.
Who will get that start? Probably Felix Hernandez. Yup.
The same Hernandez who was unceremoniously booted out of the rotation last week. Tuesday, however, he took over for Paxton and gave the Mariners 5.2 solid innings, even if the Lowrie homer off him in the third meant Hernandez was stuck with the loss.
As Paxton walked to the dugout on the first base side of the Coliseum, the baseball world witnessed something unique — Hernandez running from the dugout to the bullpen to do some quick stretches. He then went to the mound for the 399th game of his 14-year career. The first 398 were starts.
“Man, that was weird,” Hernandez said the quick prep for his first career relief appearance. “I know my body and I know my arm. I knew when I was good to go.”
Servais said he expected Hernandez would take over for Paxton the next time through the rotation against the Astros in Safeco Field.
Hernandez said he didn’t know anything about that. For now.
“Hey, I’m a reliever,” he said. “I’m a professional. I’ve got to do my job. Just go out there and pitch. I thought I made good pitches. Even the pitch to Lowrie was a pretty good pitch.”
Servais said he expected to get Hernandez back into the rotation. He just didn’t want it to be like this, an injury taking down one of his most valuable players.
“It’s unfortunate, but we got a little luck that it’s a bruise,” Servais said. “He’s had a great season, but there’s nothing you can do. It was a comebacker, hit really hard. He’s going to miss a start for sure. We’ll have to see how fast the swelling calms down. But we’re fortunate, because it could have been a lot, lot worse.”
Paxton showed off his left arm where the ball hit, just under and in front of his elbow. An inch in a different direction and the damage would have been worse.
“It’s a little swollen now, that’s for sure,” Paxton said. “But it got all muscle. The doctor said I’ll be good to go as soon as we can get the swelling out of there.”
On Aug. 7, 2016, Paxton was trying to finish the ninth inning a 3-1 win against the Angels when Andrelton Simmons nailed him with a line drive near his elbow.
Tom Wilhelmsen finished that one, getting the lone save of his second and last stint with Seattle. Paxton went on the disabled list and didn’t return until Aug. 25, at which point the Mariners lost his next three starts before rebounding to win three of his final four.
He’s battled injury issues for most of his career. He was on the disabled list once this year with a back problem. Last season, he missed most of August with a pectoral injury.
More than that, with the Mariners in a pennant race, he was looking forward to leading the club to its first postseason visit since 2001.
Now, he’s on hold until the swelling goes down.