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Paxton polished, powerful with 5 K's vs. Cubs

MLB.com @gregjohnsmlb

MESA, Ariz. -- Mariners left-hander James Paxton has a confident air about him this spring, knowing what he's capable of doing at the Major League level. And it certainly didn't hurt to come out and overpower the defending World Series champion Cubs with five strikeouts in three innings in Thursday's 8-6 win at Sloan Park.

"Paxton was really the story of the day," manager Scott Servais said after his reserves rallied with four runs in the ninth to pull out the victory. "We swung the bats really well, but Paxton was really on top of his game against their 'A' lineup out there. It was great to see him using all his pitches and working both sides of the plate. Very, very encouraging."

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MESA, Ariz. -- Mariners left-hander James Paxton has a confident air about him this spring, knowing what he's capable of doing at the Major League level. And it certainly didn't hurt to come out and overpower the defending World Series champion Cubs with five strikeouts in three innings in Thursday's 8-6 win at Sloan Park.

"Paxton was really the story of the day," manager Scott Servais said after his reserves rallied with four runs in the ninth to pull out the victory. "We swung the bats really well, but Paxton was really on top of his game against their 'A' lineup out there. It was great to see him using all his pitches and working both sides of the plate. Very, very encouraging."

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Paxton allowed just one hit -- a home run to Anthony Rizzo in the first -- and then retired the last seven batters he faced. Four of his five strikeouts caught the Cubs looking as he got ahead with his fastball and finished things off frequently with a quality curve.

This appears to be a different Paxton from the guy who struggled last spring and wound up opening the season at Triple-A Tacoma before going 6-7 with a 3.79 ERA in 20 starts after getting called up.

"Absolutely," Paxton said. "I feel healthy, which is great. I'm feeling really good and I'm just continuing to work on the mechanical thing, I'm not kind of lost like I was last Spring Training. Having an idea and knowing what I need to do is a good feeling."

Paxton has now locked into the lower arm slot that helped unleash his velocity increase in the second half last year, with his fastball now reaching the upper 90s and setting up his offspeed offerings.

Paxton caught Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras, Taylor Davis and Kyle Scwharber looking and also set down Jason Heyward swinging.

"That's a really good lineup, as good as it gets in the game right now," Servais said. "It was nice to see him go right after them and really overpower them, and finishing with the curveball was a big part of it."

Paxton's one mistake was falling behind Rizzo when he missed with a curve, then giving up the homer when the Cubs first baseman was looking for his fastball. But everything else was smooth sailing and an excellent first start of the spring after Paxton pitched two innings in relief in his Cactus League debut.

"Everything was feeling good," he said.

And for the Mariners, that's an excellent sign from a youngster who figures to fill a major role in their rotation.

Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB and listen to his podcast.

Seattle Mariners, James Paxton