Paxton struggles in latest bid for rotation spot

Paxton struggles in latest bid for rotation spot

MESA, Ariz. -- In what manager Scott Servais labeled an important start for James Paxton in his battle for a rotation spot, the Mariners left-hander had by far his worst outing of the spring Thursday in an 11-11 tie with the A's at Hohokam Stadium.

Paxton surrendered seven runs on six hits, three walks and a hit batter before Servais pulled him with no outs in the third after allowing four straight baserunners.

"Pax obviously was not his sharpest," Servais said. "I'm a little disappointed. I was looking for a little bit more from him today."

For the 27-year-old southpaw, it was a bad time for a bad outing as the Mariners are beginning to zero in on the competition between him and right-hander Nathan Karns for the fifth starting spot.

Spring Training: Tickets | Schedule | Ballpark

"I just kind of lost the handle a little bit," said Paxton. "I didn't have my best stuff, I felt like I probably went to my offspeed stuff too much and could have gone more heavy with the fastball early because I was feeling good.

"When I lost the handle on the breaking stuff, I kind of lost the handle on the fastball. I should have known that early and figured it out and gone mostly fastball-changeup because that's what was feeling good. I think throwing the other stuff and not having it feel as good kind of took me off the pitches that were good. I need to do a better job of that, and I will, recognizing that and adjusting."

Paxton has proven healthy this spring, which has been a big part of his battle early in his career. The Canadian hurler has pitched only 13 games each of the past two seasons because of various injuries, but been extremely effective when he has been on the mound (12-8, 3.16 ERA in 30 career starts).

Paxton has lost about 20 pounds since last season and is clearly leaner and more athletic, but has yet to put all the pieces together with his pitching mechanics.

"I feel like I'm still finding the breaking ball right now," he said. "It's not there yet. I've thrown a couple good ones here and there, but the consistency isn't there yet. It's definitely something I'm still kind of searching for, but that's why we have Spring Training."

Paxton figures to have two more Cactus League starts before a decision is made between he and Karns, who has a 4.00 ERA in his first three starts and is slated to go Friday against the Rangers in Peoria.

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB, read his Mariners Musings blog, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.