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MLB.com @TracyRingolsby

SEATTLE - Mike Paxton is still looking for his first big-league win this season.

The lefthander, however, is winning over the Mariners with the way he has pitched in two starts the past week, including 6 1/3 shutout innings in what became a 2-1, 11-inning loss to the Rangers at Safeco Field on Saturday night.

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SEATTLE - Mike Paxton is still looking for his first big-league win this season.

The lefthander, however, is winning over the Mariners with the way he has pitched in two starts the past week, including 6 1/3 shutout innings in what became a 2-1, 11-inning loss to the Rangers at Safeco Field on Saturday night.

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The victory provided a lift for the Rangers, who tied the game with Prince Fielder's two-out, full-count home run off Steve Cishek in the top of the ninth, and won it on Roguned Odor's leadoff home run off Mike Montgomery in the top of the 11th.

With four wins in five games against the Mariners in the last nine days the Rangers have opened up a four-game lead in the AL West.

Hold the celebration. There are still 100 games remaining in the regular season for both teams, and still plenty of challenges to face, including both of them looking for help in the rotation after the admission on Saturday afternoon that both Yu Darvish of the Rangers or Felix Hernandez of the Mariners have suffered setbacks.

Darvish, after three starts and 15 2/3 innings in his return from Tommy John surgery, was scratched from a Monday start in Oakland because of neck and shoulder stiffness, and will instead return to Arlington, Tex., to be examined by Dr. Keith Meister.

The Mariners, meanwhile, admitted that the strained calf with forced Felix Hernandez to the disabled list has been slow responding to treatment, and instead of the hope that Hernandez could miss only two starts he instead is now expected to be out until at least the All-Star Break.

That's why Paxton surfaced as such a key player in the upcoming days.

The loss of Darvish leaves the Rangers debating whether to move lefty Cesar Ramos back into the rotation, a role he filled prior to the activation of Darvish, or a possible call up of 37-year-old Kyle Lohse, who after failing to find an offer on the free-agent market, agreed to pitch for the Rockies Triple-A Round Rock affiliate in hopes of creating interest. He is 2-2 with a 5.86 ERA in five starts.

The Mariners, however, have been given reason to feel that Paxton is ready to break through at the big-league level.

He doesn't have any victories to show for the two games, but he does have a foundation to build on. In 12 2/3 innings he has allowed two earned runs, walked three batters and struck out 17.

The impression that Paxton could finally be ready step up and take command of a rotation spot on a contender comes in the aftermath of the return from the disabled list in the last week of Mariners shortstop Ketel Marte and center fielder Leonys Martin.

"I think that I figured out that I need to make some pitches early in the game, doesn't matter if it's the first inning, just got to use more than one pitch, more than just the fastball, as well as locating the fastball," said Paxton. "Getting it inside to those right-handed hitters is big for me. So I think I just have to continue to do that and watch my video coming into the game with a plan with the catcher and be ready to go." Paxton has carried sizable expectations since his days at the University of Kentucky, initially being selected by the Blue Jays with the 37th selection in the 2009 draft, but failing to agree to terms.

Paxton, however, was ruled ineligible to return to Kentucky for the 2010 season because of his involvement with agent Scott Boras, and wound up pitching that spring for the Grand Prairie (Tex.) AirHogs in the independent American Association as a tune up for a return to the first-year player draft that June.

The Mariners were able to select him in the fourth round of that draft, but it wasn't until the next March that he came to terms, delaying his pro debut two seasons.

He did get time in the Mariners rotation each last three seasons, including making 13 starts in both 2014 and 2015, but opened this season at Triple-A Tacoma.

He, however, got the call to return when Hernandez was sidelined, and after a spotty effort in his 2016 big-league debut he has put together back-to-back quality efforts, making a strong impression on team officials with a more aggressive approach on the mound than in the past.

''I think it's important to pitch with an edge, especially where he's at in his career right now,'' Mariners manager Scott Servais said after his Monday start against Cleveland. ''He's at a point where he has an opportunity to really step up and earn something and be a big part of what we're trying to get done here.

''Sometimes you've got to pitch with a little chip on your shoulder and it certainly looked like he did that tonight. He knew we needed him and he pitched a good ballgame.''

He provided an encore against the Rangers, who swept the Mariners in Texas last weekend.

After issuing back-to-back walks to Ian Desmond and Nomar Mazara to open the fourth he regrouped, getting an out when Mazara was hit by a Rougned Doro ground ball, inducing Ryan Rua to ground into a fielder's choice, and then striking out Fielder.

"I just got caught trying to be too fine on the corners and just had to get back in the strike zone and go after guys with my stuff, instead of nibbling at the corners early in the count," he said. And after back-to-back singles by Mitch Moreland and Bobby Wilson, the 8-9 hitters in the Rangers lineup, with one out in the fifth, Paxton answered by striking out the 1-2 hitters, Jurickson Profar, and Desmond.

It's a starting point for Paxton, and a reason of hope for the Mariners.

 

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, < b>Write 'em Cowboy.