ANAHEIM, Calif. – The sight brought reflexive nausea to Mariners fans, who have seen this scene play out before for James Paxton.
After allowing a two-run homer to Albert Pujols, Paxton began to fidget on the mound Thursday night, moving his body, obviously feeling discomfort somewhere on his 6-foot-5 frame. In an instant, manager Scott Servais and athletic trainer Matt Toth were out of the visitor’s dugout of Angels Stadium and heading to the mound.
The conversation was brief, followed by Paxton handing the ball to Servais and leaving the mound with Toth.
While it turned out to be just lower back tightness, the initial fear of Paxton being on the disabled list for an extended period brought on a collective gag reflex in the Pacific Northwest that could be heard in Southern California. In what has been a magical first half of the season, any injury to Paxton with a prolonged absence would lead to anxiety and panic of a possible Mariners collapse.
That Paxton didn’t have a more serious injury might have been the best aspect of what turned into an 11-2 trouncing by the Angels.
The Mariners gave a lackluster performance on the night and for much of the series, in which they lost two of three games and scored a total of 23 runs.
Seattle has dropped back-to-back series, losing four of six games, and falling to 58-36 on the season.
The All-Star break can’t start soon enough for a team that looks gassed and limping to the “midway” point of the season. Seattle’s offense is bordering somewhere between awful and anemic.
Even before his early exit, this was going to be Paxton’s last start before the All-Star break with some deserved time off to follow. With Felix Hernandez already on the disabled list with back issues, the Mariners wanted to make sure that Paxton and Marco Gonzales, who haven’t missed a start this season but do have histories of injury issues, got extended rest before the second half of the season.
Paxton wasn’t going to throw that first game out of the All-Star break.
So realistically, they could place him on the 10-day disabled list and have him back on July 24 for the game against the Giants at Safeco Field. That would allow them to also bring up at least one reliever for a bullpen that had to cover 7 1/3 innings on Thursday.
It was clear something wasn’t right with Paxton from the first batter of the game. While the velocity was normal on his pitches, they were all up in the strike zone.
Leadoff hitter David Fletcher hit a solo homer on the second pitch of the game to erase the Mariners’ early 1-0 lead. A hard line drive for an out off the bat of Andrelton Simmons and a rocket single off the bat of Mike Trout followed. Paxton struck out Justin Upton, but gave up the homer to Pujols on a 93-mph fastball down the middle.
Down 3-1, the Mariners’ middle relievers couldn’t give the offense, sputtering as it has been, even a slim chance at a rally.
Chasen Bradford allowed a run in the second, Juan Nicasio allowed a run in the fifth and Nick Rumbelow got rocked for four runs in the sixth, serving up back-to-back homers to Upton (three-run) and Pujols. The two homers on the night for Pujols pushed his career total to 630, tying him with Ken Griffey Jr.
Seattle got a first-inning run off Tyler Skaggs on an RBI single from Kyle Seager. They didn’t do much after against him. Skaggs worked six innings, allowing one run on five hits with a walk and five strikeouts.
The Mariners’ other run came in the ninth on an RBI double off the scuffling bat of Guillermo Heredia.
How bad did it get for the Mariners?
Well, with their bullpen gassed and a looming series at Coors Field next, utility infielder/outfielder Andrew Romine was brought in to pitch the eighth. Making his fifth appearance as a pitcher in his career, Romine retired Trout and Pujols. But Ian Kinsler, his former teammate on the Tigers, dumped a two-run single into left field. Romine limited the damage to the two runs.