Left-hander James Paxton has a simple goal Sunday when he takes the mound in a rehab start for Triple-A Tacoma that is his first game action in nearly three months.
“This first one,” he said, “I just want to go out there and be healthy. Have no pain. I’m going to try to throw all of my pitches. Just throw strikes. Go after hitters. Get ahead of them.”
Paxton is ticketed for 45 to 50 pitches over three innings when the Rainiers play host to Memphis (Cardinals) in a 5:05 p.m. start at Cheney Stadium.
“I’ve been preparing myself for it,” he said. “Thinking about it. Doing some visualizations. Stuff like that. I feel like I’m ready for it, and I’m excited.”
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Paxton, 26, hasn’t pitched since he left a May 28 game against Cleveland in the fifth inning because of an injured middle finger that was later diagnosed as a strained tendon.
He was 3-3 with a 3.70 ERA in 10 starts when he landed on the disabled list. Plans call for him to make another start Friday — 65 to 70 pitches — and then be re-evaluated for a possible return to the big-league rotation.
“The second (rehab start) is when you start to fire it up, I think,” Paxton said. “Get everything going. But the first one, I just want to feel good, get ahead and throw strikes. That’s the goal.”
A CLOSING CONUNDRUM
Rookie Carson Smith, prior to Saturday, had a 4.44 ERA in 28 outings since he replaced veteran Fernando Rodney in early June as the Mariners’ closer.
Manager Lloyd McClendon has a simple explanation:
Smith wasn’t ready.
"He’s been shaky all year," McClendon said, "and I told you this would happen. Listen, when you lose your closer the way we lost our closer — (Rodney) hasn’t performed up to his capabilities — then other guys are overexposed.
"And Carson Smith has been overexposed, particularly from a physical standpoint. It’s been challenging at times from a mental standpoint.
"Is he getting better? Yes, he’s getting better. Was he ready for this role? No, he was not ready for this role. I told you that three months ago. It hasn’t changed. He’s still not ready. He’s getting better."
Even so, McClendon isn’t planning to replace Smith as the club’s closer.
"You don’t keep flip-flopping," McClendon said. "He’s in that role, and we’re trying to build him and get him ready. It’s tough. We’re going to have some aches and pains with it.
"If you take him out of that position, then who do you put in? And when that guy doesn’t work, who’s next?…That just doesn’t work."
THE 11x30 CLUB
Robinson Cano needs one more double to reach 30 for an 11th consecutive season and become only the sixth player in Major League history to put together such a streak.
Cano would be the first player to do it since Stan Musial completed a record-tying 13-year run from 1946-58. Honus Wagner had a 13-year run from 1898-1910.
Musial actually had at least 30 doubles in 16 straight seasons in which he played (1942-58), but he missed 1945 due to military service.
Others who had 11 seasons in a row of 30 or more doubles: Tris Speaker (1916-27) had a 12-year streak; Ed Delahanty (1892-1902) and Joe Medwick (1933-43) did it 11 years in a row.
Cano will have one piece of history all to himself; he would be the first player to have 30 or more doubles in each of his first 11 seasons. He and Albert Pujols are the only players to reach that level in their first 10 seasons.
32 AND COUNTING
Nelson Cruz has now reached base safely in 32 consecutive games after going 1 for 4 with a walk. That run is a career best and the longest of the season by an American League player.
It was the 20th such streak of at least 32 games in franchise history. Eleven players have done it. Cruz’s streak is the long by a Mariner since Ichiro Suzuki went 43 games in 2009.
McClendon is up to 33 career ejections after getting tossed Friday night in the eighth inning for arguing balls and strikes with umpire Quinn Wolcott.
It was McClendon’s fourth ejection of the season and his 10th in two years as the Mariners’ manager.
McClendon has a ways to go to match the all-time record of 158 ejections by former Atlanta and Toronto manager Bobby Cox.
Those arguments didn’t hurt Cox’s career; he was inducted last year into the Hall of Fame.
DOES QUALITY COUNT?
The Chicago White Sox lead the American League with 72 quality starts for their rotation. The Mariners and Oakland are tied for second with 71.
Those three clubs were a combined 34 games under .500 and a combined 42 games out of first place in their division races.
The two teams with the best records, Kansas City and New York, ranked 14th and 13th among AL clubs in quality starts.
Two Single-A Bakersfield players, outfielder Tyler O’Neill and pitcher Dan Altavilla, were picked to the California League Postseason All-Star team by the managers and broadcasters of the league’s 10 clubs.
O’Neill, 20, was the Mariners’ third-round pick in 2013 and leads the California League with 29 home runs despite playing just 92 games.
O’Neill also leads the organization’s minor-league players in homers and with 78 RBIs. He missed three weeks in July while playing for Canada in the Pan American Games.
Altavilla, 22, was a fifth-round pick in 2014. He is 6-10 with a 4.03 ERA in 25 games. He has 122 strikeouts in 136 1/3 innings. Opponents are batting just .239 against him.
It was 33 years ago — Aug. 23, 1982 — that Gaylord Perry was ejected in the seventh inning of a game against Boston at the Kingdome for throwing a ball with a foreign substance.
It was the first time in Perry’s career, in its 21st season at that point, that he was thrown out of a game for doctoring a ball.
The Mariners trailed 1-0 when Perry was ejected, and eventually lost, 4-3.
The Mariners led the majors with 20 extra-inning games. They are 10-10 in those games. ... Mark Trumbo was a late scratch as the Mariners’ right fielder because of a sore left knee. He will be reevaluated on Sunday. ... Franklin Gutierrez had multiple RBIs for the fourth time in his last 11 games. ... Felix Hernandez got the loss in Friday’s opener and has lost back-to-back starts for the first time since losing four in a row from Aug. 17 to Sept. 2, 2013. ... Rookie shortstop Ketel Marte had two walks and a sacrifice bunt in five plate appearances. He has reached base in 11 of his last 12 games. ... Shortstop Brad Miller took extra work in center field prior to the game.
The Mariners and White Sox conclude their three-game weekend series at 1:10 p.m. Sunday at Safeco Field. Right-hander Taijuan Walker (8-7, 4.60 ERA) will face Chicago lefty John Danks (6-10, 4.61).