PEORIA, Ariz. -- James Paxton could have been upset by the Mariners' decision to announce Felix Hernandez as their Opening Day starter on Sunday, given that Paxton clearly was coming off a better season and has been healthy all spring.But after wrapping up his own Cactus League season with five
PEORIA, Ariz. -- James Paxton could have been upset by the Mariners' decision to announce Felix Hernandez as their Opening Day starter on Sunday, given that Paxton clearly was coming off a better season and has been healthy all spring.
But after wrapping up his own Cactus League season with five solid innings in Seattle's 11-7 victory over the Padres, the 29-year-old Canadian endorsed the choice and said he'd be ready for his own debut in Game 2 of the season next Saturday.
"I think it's great," Paxton said. "I'm really happy that he's feeling so good. I know he hasn't thrown a ton this camp, but the times that he has been out there, he's been very strong and looks great. I know he's excited about making that start and everyone else here is excited about having him go out on the mound."
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Paxton threw 88 pitches in his five innings Sunday and looked strong while allowing six hits and three runs (two earned) with one walk and six strikeouts. He gave up two solo homers in his final inning, one coming on a pitch he acknowledged was a mistake and the other being a classic Arizona pop-up that just cleared the fence.
"I just threw a bad two-strike pitch, a curve that hung," he said. "The next one was a nice little jam-shot home run. Other than that, I felt really good. I threw some good pitches and everything is right where I need to be."
Manager Scott Servais said he saw everything he wanted, aside from a line drive that skimmed over Paxton's head in the third inning.
"Pax threw the ball really well," Servais said. "He got a couple balls up in the wind that didn't help him out, but he got his pitches in, his stuff was good, his curve was good. I just probably held my breath as much as anything with him out there just to get his pitches in, get him off the mound and let's move forward. He's ready to go."
• The Mariners are off Monday, but Ichiro Suzuki will play in a Minor League game at Peoria Stadium that night to get in some at-bats as the club looks to see if the 44-year-old can get ready in time for Opening Day. Due to a sore calf, he's played in just four Cactus League games since signing on March 7 and is 0-for-7 with four strikeouts.
Ichiro attempted to play in Minor League games -- where he can be inserted into the batting order each inning -- in order to work on his timing at the plate on Friday, but was hit in the head with a pitch on his fifth at-bat and had to be taken out.
"I talked with Ichi and needed him to be totally honest with us about where he's at physically," Servais said. "He went out and took some BP and moved around. We debated whether we fire him out there today, but decided it would it would be best he played tomorrow."
• Hisashi Iwakuma threw a strong 24-pitch bullpen Sunday as he continued working ahead of schedule on his return from September shoulder surgery. The 36-year-old veteran re-signed with Seattle on a Minor League deal, but Servais has expressed optimism that he will be able to help the Mariners' rotation at some point this season.
"It's step one," said Servais. "He's got a long ways to come back, but I know he was anxious to get on the mound and all reports are it was very good."
• Left fielder Ben Gamel is also returning quicker than expected from a strained right oblique and he took batting practice Sunday for the first time since being sidelined three weeks ago. Gamel will open the season on the disabled list, but could be back sooner than the initial estimates of being sidelined through April.
"He's really ahead of schedule," Servais said. "Seeing him swing on the field today, he was letting it go and not hesitant about anything. His recovery is coming along a little quicker than we'd even hoped."
After the off-day on Monday, the Mariners close out their Cactus League slate with a 12:10 p.m. PT game Tuesday against the Rockies at Salt River Fields in an MLB.TV contest. Left-hander Marco Gonzales, who secured a spot as Seattle's No. 4 starter with a strong spring, will get the start. Edwin Diaz, Dan Altavilla and Marc Rzepczynski will pitch in relief.
Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB.