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Though short, Paxton's rehab outing a positive

SEATTLE -- James Paxton's first rehab start with Triple-A Tacoma on Sunday lasted just 36 pitches and two-thirds of an inning, but the 6-foot-4 left-hander said he felt healthy and is a step closer to a return to the Mariners rotation this season.

"I felt good. I felt like I was throwing strikes. I was healthy, no pain. I would have liked to have gone deeper in the game, obviously," said Paxton, who allowed one earned run on two hits and walked one before exiting with a 3-2 count in the first inning against the Memphis Redbirds. "They were fouling off a bunch of stuff and my breaking stuff wasn't as sharp as I would like it to be. But I think that's going to come."

Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said Paxton built to 50 pitches in the bullpen after leaving the game. The plan is for the 26-year-old lefty to build to between 65 and 70 pitches in a second start against Triple-A Nashville in Tacoma on Friday. Paxton will likely make a third start on the road with the Rainiers before returning to the Mariners rotation.

Paxton, who was placed on the disabled list May 29 with strained tendon in his left middle finger, reached as fast as 95 mph with his fastball and threw a mix of all the pitches in his arsenal Sunday.

"I think that next time out, I'll probably lean on my fastball like I do when I pitch in regular games," Paxton said. "Of course I want to be healthy again, but I think that this next one is really starting to amp it up and come back up here and contribute."

His return is still a couple of Minor League rehab starts away, but for now Paxton will take in-game competition as a consolation.

"I had some bad days along the way but the training staff here has done a great job of keeping me positive and moving me forward as quickly as we could," Paxton said. "I'm just happy to be on a mound and healthy now."

Tom Wilhelmsen recorded his first save since 2013 in a ninth-inning situation Sunday and will be used again in that closer's role Monday if needed, McClendon said, though he'll continue taking it day to day between Wilhelmsen and rookie Carson Smith.

Vidal Nuno is lined up to make his next start Thursday against the White Sox in Chicago, but McClendon said it's up in the air if he goes as scheduled or if Roenis Elias rejoins the rotation. Presumably that depends on whether Elias is needed out of the bullpen in the interim.

McClendon indicated the rotation could undergo some changes in the final month, with Taijuan Walker and Mike Montgomery both likely to be skipped at times as they approach innings limits.

Andrew Erickson is an associate reporter for
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