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Paxton back, but rotation return unclear

September 17, 2018

HOUSTON -- James Paxton has already set career highs in innings pitched and starts this year, but the big lefty still hit a few bumps in the road with a back issue and then a bruised forearm in the second half.Now Paxton is dealing with a flu and pneumonia combo

HOUSTON -- James Paxton has already set career highs in innings pitched and starts this year, but the big lefty still hit a few bumps in the road with a back issue and then a bruised forearm in the second half.
Now Paxton is dealing with a flu and pneumonia combo that flattened him last week, leaving his return to the rotation still in flux as the season winds down.
Paxton rejoined the Mariners on Monday in Houston, but needs to regain his energy and shake off the aftereffects of the illness before he'll be cleared to pitch in a game.
The 29-year-old hopes to throw a bullpen session either Tuesday or Wednesday and see how that goes, but said he'd been sicker than he ever remembered in his life and remained a little drained from a fever that reached 103-104 degrees for three or four days after he woke up shivering last Monday.
"I played catch the last couple days and that took a lot out of me, just doing that," Paxton said. "So I'm going to try to build it up here as soon as I can to get back out there. I'm getting stronger every day and getting the energy back, but how quickly that goes, we'll just have to wait and see."
Paxton emerged as Seattle's No. 1 starter this season with a dominant first half that included a no-hitter in Toronto in May and he's gone 11-6 with a 3.83 ERA in 150 1/3 innings over 26 starts. But he's been able to start just six games since the All-Star break, going 3-2 with a 4.35 ERA due to injuries and now illness.
With their playoff hopes all but expired, the Mariners could shut Paxton down. But his goal this season was to stay as healthy as possible and build up his starts and innings, so he'd like to get back on the mound for two more outings if possible.
"That would be ideal," he said. "I'd love to. I want to pitch as much as I can. Whether that's one or two starts, I don't know. We'll have to see how things progress."
Paxton missed his last scheduled start Friday and it clearly sounds as if he won't be ready by Wednesday's series finale against the Astros when his spot comes up again. The Mariners have yet to announce a starter for that game, and manager Scott Servais indicated another bullpen game is likely.
Lefty Roenis Elias started in Paxton's spot Friday in Anaheim and threw 3 2/3 scoreless innings, but the Mariners might opt for right-handed long reliever Casey Lawrence or even a right-handed "opener" for one inning against the Astros' right-handed-heavy lineup.
"Certainly the Astros have a lot of very good right-handed hitters, but they can mix and match and do some things with guys off their bench, too," Servais said. "We'll just try to put the guy out there that gives us the best chance to get the game started in our favor, put a zero up there and go from there."
Servais would have loved to have Paxton be that guy, but knows he'll need to get his energy back first.
"Being sick for a while with pneumonia, I didn't expect him to walk in here doing backflips," Servais said. "But once he gets out and plays catch today, we'll get a better feel for where he's at. We'll do the right thing and not get him out there til he's 100 percent."
Vogelbach waiting his turn
Nelson Cruz was back at designated hitter Monday after sitting out Sunday while dealing with a virus that previously sidelined Jean Segura and Cameron Maybin.
While Daniel Vogelbach hit a home run filling in for Cruz in Sunday's 4-3 loss in Anaheim, Servais said Cruz would continue getting most of the DH at-bats over the final two weeks.

As for Vogelbach? Servais noted the 25-year-old has hit well in the Minors and eventually needs to land in a spot where he can try to build on that in the Majors, where he's hit just .211/.333/.366 with three home runs in 71 at-bats this season and .198/.305/.306 in 111 at-bats in his career.
"Being in a situation where somebody just commits 350 to 400 at-bats to him in a season and see what you've got at the end of the day, that's probably what he needs," Servais said. "Is that what he's going to get? I don't know. You have to be in the right place at the right time for that to happen. He's certainly produced at the Triple-A level. He needs to get the opportunity and then take advantage of it when it's there."

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