By Evan Webeck, The Sports Xchange
SEATTLE — The Texas Rangers couldn’t muster a hit against James Paxton for 5 1/3 innings on Saturday at Safeco Field. Once they did, Paxton returned to his dominant ways in the Seattle Mariners’ 5-0 win over the Rangers.
Joey Gallo ripped a shift-beating double to break up Paxton’s no-no, but Paxton got Delino DeShields swinging for the sixth of his nine strikeouts over eight shutout innings. Gallo’s hit would be just one of two for the Rangers.
Paxton (2-0) was as dominant on his 114th and final pitch of the game as he was on his first. To cap his evening, Paxton got Gallo swinging on an 82-mph knuckle curve to strike out the side in the eighth inning.
“I’m just making good pitches,” Paxton said. “The fastball’s got some good run on it at the plate, some life. Stuff’s feeling really good right now. (Catcher Mike Zunino) is doing a fantastic job back there calling the game and guys are playing D behind me.”
Paxton has started the season with 21 consecutive scoreless innings and three starts of six-plus innings without allowing a run. The former set a Mariners franchise record; the latter puts him in a three-man club with Woody Williams and Jordan Zimmermann as the only starters to do so in the divisional era (since 1969).
“We had a feeling this could kind of be his breakout year after what we saw last year and his stretch of 10-12 starts at the end of the season,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “He’s just continued to build off that and grow.”
Andrew Cashner (0-1) matched Paxton for much of the game. In his first start of the season, returning from a stint on the 10-day disabled list with elbow tendinitis, Cashner pitched into and out of trouble but couldn’t escape his final jam.
Mitch Haniger singled with one out in the sixth to begin a run of five straight and six of seven Seattle batters to reach base, capped by a Taylor Motter three-run homer that careened off the facade of the left-field bleachers and into the Texas bullpen to open up the decisive 5-0 lead.
Paxton mowed through the Rangers’ order, with the lanky left-hander retiring 15 in a row after walking Carlos Gomez to lead off the game — and subsequently erasing him on a double-play ball.
Cashner was firing in the mid-90s but put runners on in every inning but the first. Yet he was able to avoid any damage — until the sixth — with a pair of double plays and some timely strikeouts. He finished with two, plus three walks over 5 1/3 innings.
“I thought it was good,” Cashner said of his first time back on the mound. “One of the things I could do better is get ahead later in the game. But the fastball command on both sides of the plate, I thought was good. The misses were small. I could get a little better extension on my slider occasionally, but for the most part kept them off-balance all night.”
The Mariners put runners in scoring position with less than two outs multiple times in the early innings but couldn’t capitalize.
Nelson Cruz and Zunino laced a pair of doubles down the third-base line in the second and third innings but were both stranded, continuing Seattle’s problems hitting with men in scoring position. Danny Valencia tripled with one out in the fifth but the bottom third of the order couldn’t drive him home.
The Mariners entered Saturday’s game with the second-worst average with runners in scoring position in baseball at .155 (15-for-97). Even though a Kyle Seager single and Motter’s home run gave them a big sixth inning, it didn’t quash all of Servais’ concerns of hitting with runners in scoring position.
“We’ve had some struggles getting that guy in from third,” Servais said. “We haven’t had great at-bats in those situations, but Seags has really stepped up the last couple nights. I think he’s turned his intensity dial up a little bit. … I love what he’s been doing the last couple nights. He’s doing what Kyle Seager does: He pulls the ball with authority and he’s working the count.”