CHICAGO -- James Paxton's return from the disabled list didn't go exactly as planned Thursday, but the lanky lefty overcame a rocky start and had the Mariners in position to win until the White Sox rallied late for a 7-6 victory at U.S. Cellular Field.
Despite allowing a trio of runs in the first, Paxton turned a 6-3 lead over to the bullpen in the sixth in a 90-pitch outing as he returned from an 18-day absence due to a bruised elbow.
"Just a little bit of rust," Paxton said of his shaky start. "I was missing in the middle a little bit and they were finding some holes. As it went along, I made some better pitches and used more breaking pitches because they were just kind of ambushing the fastball early. I just had to battle today. I didn't have a great feel for stuff, but I just had to go out there and give it all I had."
The White Sox tagged Paxton for five singles in the first and had two on and one out in the second when he got a line-drive double play from Jose Abreu to end that threat. From there, it was smooth sailing as he retired 10 of the last 11 batters he faced.
"They came out hacking," manager Scott Servais said. "They were on the fastball and didn't miss anything. They hit some hard ground balls that got through the infield. It was just one of those innings. He did settle in there and did a pretty good job for us."
Though four of the five first-inning singles were grounders through the infield, Paxton wasn't buying the hard-luck argument.
"That's the way baseball goes sometimes. They're going to find holes," he said. "I was missing my spots though, so that kind of happens."
Most important, he said, was the fact everything felt normal in his first outing since getting smoked by a line drive off his elbow Aug. 7.
"No pain, no tightness, no issues there," he said. "So that was good. I'll just get back to work and tighten some things up and get ready for next time."
Paxton is 2-1 with a 2.16 ERA in his past five starts and 4-5 with a 3.63 ERA.
The Mariners designated veteran lefty Wade LeBlanc for assignment to open a spot on the 25-man roster for Paxton's return. With Taijuan Walker also rejoining the team Tuesday, LeBlanc had been moved to the bullpen. But the 32-year-old provided a nice boost to the rotation after being acquired by trade from the Blue Jays on June 22, going 3-0 with a 4.50 ERA in 11 outings, including eight starts.
Seattle has 10 days to trade, release or outright the contract of LeBlanc to the Minors. He went 7-2 with a 1.71 ERA in 14 starts for Triple-A Buffalo in the Blue Jays organization before being acquired for a player to be named or cash by the Mariners.
"I thought he pitched great," Servais said. "We talked about our starting pitching had to get better, had to get deeper, and what we've done in the month of August has been driven by our pitching. LeBlanc was a big part of that. It was really tough having that conversation with him [Wednesday]. He really felt part of things here and my fingers are crossed that he doesn't get claimed, but everybody is looking for pitching this time of the year."
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.