DETROIT -- James Paxton proved to be just what the doctor ordered for the ailing Mariners on Wednesday. For starters, he didn't need any medical help, which was a welcome change for a Seattle club that has lost Felix Hernandez, Mitch Haniger, Drew Smyly, Jean Segura and Kyle Seager for
DETROIT -- James Paxton proved to be just what the doctor ordered for the ailing Mariners on Wednesday. For starters, he didn't need any medical help, which was a welcome change for a Seattle club that has lost Felix Hernandez, Mitch Haniger, Drew Smyly, Jean Segura and Kyle Seager for various amounts of time.
With Hernandez and Haniger going on the disabled list Wednesday, Paxton provided a bright ray of optimism with his seven brilliant innings in an 8-0 victory over the Tigers as he continued cementing his status as the Mariners' emerging ace.
After a one-game blip, the long-limbed lefty was back on track with his fourth scoreless outing in five starts, allowing just four hits in a dominant performance. And after Seattle's pitchers allowed 19 runs and 24 hits in a Tuesday drubbing, this one looked like a polished gem indeed.
"Pax was really outstanding and we certainly needed it," manager Scott Servais said of the Canadian southpaw. "Big Maple is what he was nicknamed tonight and I kind of like that. He was awesome."
Outside of his start in Oakland last weekend when the A's snapped his streak of 23 scoreless innings with five runs in 4 1/3 frames, Paxton has been near perfect.
With Hernandez out, Paxton takes over as Seattle's No. 1 starter and the 28-year-old has deserved that billing. In five starts, Paxton is 3-0 with a 1.39 ERA, while the rest of the rotation is 4-8 with a 4.80 ERA and will go with rookie Chase De Jong in Hernandez's place.
How overpowering has Paxton been? Coming into the game, his average four-seamer velocity of 95.8 mph ranked third out of the 56 pitchers in MLB with at least 150 four-seamers thrown, behind only right-handers Luis Severino of the Yankees and Gerrit Cole of the Pirates. He was even better Wednesday, averaging 96.2 mph with a high of 98.1, according to Statcast™.
Paxton relied on the four-seamer more heavily, throwing it for 74 of his 103 pitches (72 percent), compared with his average of 61 percent in his first four starts.
"I was watching some video and saw I was getting on the side of the ball last game and not really able to drive the ball in there," he said. "So I got back on top of it and was able to throw strikes and get the breaking ball over a little more."
Tigers first baseman John Hicks, who was a catcher in the Mariners' system with Paxton for several years, said his former teammate's lowered arm slot has made a huge difference.
"He's a little different from when I was over there," said Hicks. "He was always straight over the top. I mean, his arm almost hit him in the ear when he threw. He's lowered his arm slot a little bit and I think it's helped him command the ball a little better. He threw the ball really well."
Paxton clearly is growing into ace status in a hurry after opening last year in Triple-A. He says being regarded as a No. 1 pitcher doesn't even enter his mind, but he does like instilling his teammates' confidence when he takes the mound.
"It's big," he said. "I want to be that guy. I want guys to feel confident when I take the mound. I think they know I'm giving it everything I've got when I go out there, so they respect that."
Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter [
@GregJohnsMLB]() and listen to his podcast.