Paxton seizes opportunity, picks up first win

Paxton seizes opportunity, picks up first win

ST. PETERSBURG -- James Paxton picked up his first win of the season in Thursday's 6-4 victory over the Rays as the lanky left-hander continued providing a much-needed boost for the Mariners in place of the injured Felix Hernandez.

After a rough season debut, the 27-year-old has thrown very well in his last three outings with a 1.96 ERA, 22 strikeouts and five walks in 18 1/3 innings.

The Mariners had scored just two runs in his last two starts, but this time they put up three runs in the first and made it hold up as they snapped a four-game losing skid and recorded just their seventh win in their past 20 games.

As Hernandez has done so many times in his career, Paxton stepped up to end the skid with a gritty performance. Though he wasn't as dominant as his previous two starts, the Canadian southpaw dug in when needed and held the Rays to three runs on seven hits. He turned a 5-3 lead over to a bullpen that needed a quality start after working 7 1/3 innings the previous night.

Paxton avoids trouble

"James Paxton did a great job," manager Scott Servais said. "He had to step up, and he did. He was very aggressive. Maybe not quite the stuff breaking ball-wise he's had the last couple outings, but very good."

Servais challenged Paxton to grab hold of this opportunity several weeks ago, and he showed some mettle again in this one.

The Rays were 2-for-12 with runners in scoring position against Paxton and -- much like Hernandez -- he has proven exceedingly tough in those situations. In 13 starts dating back to April 30, 2015, Paxton has held opponents to an .098 average (6-for-61) with runners in scoring position.

"It was a battle," Paxton said. "I was going in knowing I needed to go deep. Hopefully I'll get a little more efficient here and get a little deeper than six. I want to be able to go seven or eight, but I think that's coming. I'll just keep on working."

Paxton worked out of a big jam in the sixth to keep the two-run lead, then got his first win since May 23, 2015, in Toronto when Joaquin Benoit struck out Steve Pearce with the bases loaded in the eighth and Steve Cishek recorded his 15th save with a perfect ninth.

Benoit gets out of a jam

"Getting a win today was huge," Paxton said. "We didn't want to come out of this series being swept. It was a big win for us, and hopefully we can take this into the Boston series."

Catcher Chris Iannetta, who went 3-for-5 with an RBI and caught the whole game after working all 13 innings on Wednesday, appreciated the work of the young starter.

"He was great," Iannetta said. "That was a very gutsy performance by him. He got his first win for us this year. He needed to go deep in the game, and he did that for us. Tip your hat to the Rays. They got his pitch count up at some points, but he battled back and became efficient when he needed."

Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.