SEATTLE -- The Mariners have a tradition after wins where the game's top player is awarded a blue and gold helmet dubbed "The Swelmet."Sometimes it's given to an unsung hero rather than the obvious choice, but there wasn't much thought into who was receiving it after the Mariners' 4-0 win
SEATTLE -- The Mariners have a tradition after wins where the game's top player is awarded a blue and gold helmet dubbed "The Swelmet."
Sometimes it's given to an unsung hero rather than the obvious choice, but there wasn't much thought into who was receiving it after the Mariners' 4-0 win over the Red Sox at Safeco Field on Monday night.
"I think you earned this one, Pax," Ben Gamel said as he carried the Mariners-themed headgear down to starting pitcher James Paxton's locker.
Paxton scattered four hits over seven scoreless innings while tying his career high for strikeouts with 10 and issuing no walks. He's now 5-0 with a 1.63 ERA in five July starts.
"Tonight was probably as good as I've seen him all year long, with the quality of his pitches and having all four of them working," Mariners manager Scott Servais said.
Boston's strikeout rate is 18.6 percent, the fourth best in the MLB. But Paxton's repertoire of pitches was too dominant against the Red Sox's contact-reliant lineup, and the development of his secondary pitches -- and general trust in them -- was the cause of it.
Paxton has been throwing his knuckle-curve at a much higher rate. In his first 10 starts, Paxton was offering it at a 19 percent rate (23 percent with two strikes), which resulted in 24 percent of his strikeouts. But in his last six outings entering Monday, Paxton employed his hooking knuckle-curve for 26 percent of pitches (39 percent with two strikes), which produced 49 percent of his strikeouts. Hitters barely touched it, hitting 4-for-40 with a .125 slugging percentage.
"Being able to throw it for strikes is huge," Paxton said. "Throwing another pitch that they have to respect for strikes really helps me work the speed-em-up, slow-em-down game."
Servais said he leaned primary on his cutter on Monday, but mixed in his knuckle-curve for strikes often early in counts.
But the most decisive strikeout Monday came on that knuckle-curve, as the "Big Maple" punched out Chris Young to record his first out with two men on base in the sixth inning before inducing a double play against Deven Marrero in the next at-bat to escape the inning.
Paxton let out a roar as he walked off the mound.
"He's always got that fire," Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager said. "He's a really quiet guy and works extremely hard, but he's got that fire. You get glimpses of it from time to time and you saw it tonight. And it's pretty fun when he does it."
Seager, who's watched Paxton come up through the Minors, has been amazed with his development.
"He's always had the velocity, that's always been his thing," Seager said of Paxton, whose fastball averages around 97 mph. "But you start really looking at the development of that curveball and cutter, he's not only throwing it for strikes, but getting strikeouts on that pitch. There's a big difference on that. You can throw a get-me-over curveball to get back in the count or something like that, but he's not only using it that way, he's using it to get guys out. He's really tough. And I'm glad he's on my team."
Josh Horton is a reporter for MLB.com based in Seattle.