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Paxton K's 8, goes 7 scoreless in DL return

Cruz drives in pair of runs as Mariners cut Astros' division lead to three
MLB.com

SEATTLE -- James Paxton wasn't able to make his last start, saying that he wanted to wait until his back injury had healed 100 percent.

The Mariners lefty made the right call, returning on Monday and putting up a healthy line of seven innings pitched, eight strikeouts and no walks on 82 pitches in his return from the disabled list and powering Seattle to a 2-0 shutout of Houston.

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SEATTLE -- James Paxton wasn't able to make his last start, saying that he wanted to wait until his back injury had healed 100 percent.

The Mariners lefty made the right call, returning on Monday and putting up a healthy line of seven innings pitched, eight strikeouts and no walks on 82 pitches in his return from the disabled list and powering Seattle to a 2-0 shutout of Houston.

View Full Game Coverage

"I didn't have to think about my back once," Paxton said. "That's kind of the point I wanted to get to before I came back. If I had come back a start before this, I would have been out there thinking about my back and I wouldn't have been able to compete like I did tonight."

The left-hander hadn't pitched since July 12, when he left a game in Anaheim after retiring just two batters and giving up three earned runs.

"You don't go out of there for 18, 19 days -- whatever it was -- and go out and dominate a really good team like that," said manager Scott Servais. "It's not that easy. He's going to be key for us down the stretch."

Paxton was nearly outdone by Houston starter Gerrit Cole, who retired the first 15 batters he faced.

"What a pitching ballgame, both sides," Servais said. "Cole was about as good as you can get, and Paxton's right there matching him back and forth. Probably one of the top pitching games that we've seen all year, certainly, on both sides of the ball."

There were two outs in the sixth inning by the time the Mariners got a hit off of Cole, but when they finally did, they got three in a row. A pair of two-out singles set the table for a Nelson Cruz two-RBI double. The shot left the bat at 110.4 mph and blistered past a diving J.D. Davis at third base.

Video: HOU@SEA: Cruz opens scoring with 2-run double in 6th

"Definitely one of the best pitchers in the league," Cruz said. "We were hoping for at least one run the way Paxton was pitching, too."

Servais went with the familiar pair of setup man Alex Colome and closer Edwin Diaz, who pitched scoreless eighth and ninth innings, respectively. Diaz notched his MLB-best 40th save of the year.

Video: HOU@SEA: Diaz reaches 40-save mark for the 1st time

The victory trimmed the Astros' lead over the Mariners in the American League West to three games.

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Astros shortstop Alex Bregman came to the plate representing the winning run with two outs in the eighth inning, but Colome came up with a 3-2 cutter to strike out Bregman and send the game to the ninth.

"If you flip on MLB Network or ESPN, Bregman's been in the middle of a lot of big rallies and what they do late in the game," Servais said. "He's probably been about as clutch of a player as there is in the league this year, but Alex Colome's been around the league, too. He's able to execute pitches there, 3-2, made his pitch, didn't back off, didn't get too big or too caught up in the moment. Kept working through it and it was great to see."

SOUND SMART
The Mariners added on to one of the game's best track records in tight games. They hold baseball's best winning percentage in both two-run games (14-3) and in games decided by either one or two runs (41-17).

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Under normal circumstances, Cole's no-hitter would have been broken up an inning sooner.

Mitch Haniger slashed a looper into right field in the fifth inning that went off the glove of a diving George Springer, but with Cruz on first after getting hit by a pitch, second baseman Yuli Gurriel fired the ball to second in time to nab Cruz on a forceout.

Video: HOU@SEA: Gurriel hustles to help Springer, nab Cruz

The play was ruled a 9-4-6 forceout. Had the same event occurred with no one on base, Haniger would have broken up the no-hit bid then.

MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
With two on in the first inning, Evan Gattis drilled a foul ball that left the bat at 107 mph into the upper deck in left field. The ball was initially ruled foul, but the crew chief opted for a review to ensure the ball didn't hit the foul pole.

Video: HOU@SEA: Foul ball call on Gattis stands on review

"We were inches away from a 3-0 lead in the first," said Astros manager AJ Hinch. "After that, we had a tough time piece things together, obviously. [Paxton] was pretty dominant."

UP NEXT
Seattle starter Mike Leake (8-6, 4.15 ERA) and his Houston counterpart Charlie Morton (11-2, 2.89) will face off in the middle game on Tuesday at 7:10 p.m. PT. In one start against the Astros this year, Leake gave up five runs in six innings and got tagged with a loss. Morton received a no-decision in each of his last two starts -- both Houston losses.

David Gottlieb covers the Mariners for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @DGottliebMLB.

Seattle Mariners, James Paxton