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Javs take opener behind Paxton's solid outing

James Paxton didn't waste his opportunity to make a good first impression on his new teammates.

Taking the mound on Opening Day in the Arizona Fall League, the Mariners left-hander struck out the side in the first inning, setting the tone for a solid debut and a home win.

"It felt great to go out there and get those three strikeouts early," said Paxton, a 2010 fourth-round Draft pick. "It helped me set myself in a groove and it went well the other innings, too."

The Mariners' No. 5 prospect allowed one hit over three innings and Donald Lutz went 2-for-4 with an RBI and a pair of runs scored Tuesday as the Peoria Javelinas held off the Surprise Saguaros, 5-2, in the Arizona Fall League opener for both teams.

Paxton, who went 9-4 with a 3.05 ERA in 21 starts for Double-A Jackson, held Surprise to a second-inning single by Red Sox prospect Michael Almanzar and a walk in the third, throwing 29 of 47 pitches for strikes. Fellow Mariners prospects Carson Smith, Logan Bawcom and Bobby LaFromboise combined with Matt Stites and Kevin Quackenbush (Padres) to close out the win.

"I felt really good," Paxton said. "I felt like I was a little rusty with some of my pitches, especially on the curveball; it wasn't breaking quite as much as I'm used to. But I felt pretty good for my first time out."

Paxton fanned three in the first, pitching around an error by Reds shortstop Didi Gregorius. He struck out two more in the second and erased his only walk when he got Cardinals prospect Kolten Wong to bounce into a double play in the third.

"It was big," Paxton said of the double play. "I think the third baseman [Cody Asche] came across and got it on a hop. He made a nice play and Nick Franklin turned it well at second. It got me out of that inning, so it was big."

Paxton said he thinks the AFL could present some more challenging situations than he faced this summer in the Southern League.

"I feel like there's definitely some really good prospects here. And in Double-A, the Southern League, it was really good, too, but I think as time goes, moving forward, we're going to see a lot of top prospects from each organization, so I expect the competition will be quite strong," he said.

Paxton, a 23-year-old drafted out of the University of Kentucky, said Peoria will give him a chance to work on some of his breaking pitches and off-speed offerings heading into what likely will be his Triple-A debut in April.

"Just for me, I feel like the second half of the season I got stronger and stronger. I felt like I finished strong in the playoffs, so that's something I'm looking to build off," he said. "And to work on pitches that I need to work on."

Paxton was 6-1 with a 2.40 ERA in 11 starts following the Southern League All-Star Break. Part of that success stemmed from working on refining his change-up.

"Making my curve more consistent and fastball command and just continuing to work on the change-up," he said. "That was my big project pitch this year."

And as for that first impression, Paxton probably made some friends after Tuesday's outing. The Javelinas are comprised of players from the Reds, Twins, Phillies, Padres and Mariners, and it'll take at least a few days for everyone to come together in the clubhouse.

"I think there's definitely some feeling out still going on, but we have a good group of guys here," he said. "We've been able to get a few practices in before the game today, the guys are melding in the outfield, getting to know each other, but it's a good group of guys."

Lutz, a Reds prospect who played four games with Germany in qualifying for the World Baseball Classic last month, hit an RBI single in the fourth and scored on a base hit by Zach Collier to cap Peoria's two-run fourth. Lutz doubled and scored again in the sixth before the Javs added a run in the seventh as the Twins' Evan Bigley hit a leadoff double and came around on Gregorius' sacrifice fly.

Royals lefty Justin Marks started for Surprise and held Peoria hitless for three innings before handing the ball to Red Sox right-hander Brock Huntzinger, who allowed both runs in the fourth. Fellow Red Sox prospect Chris Martin followed and also surrendered a pair of runs.

Brian Fletcher (Royals) and Darrell Ceciliani (Mets) drove in the runs for Surprise.

Seattle Mariners, James Paxton