It wasn’t quite vintage James Paxton on Tuesday night, but it was better. Whether it was good enough to call it a season is yet to be determined.
"We saw what we needed to see out of him," manager Scott Servais hedged after the Mariners rallied for a 6-3 victory over the Oakland Athletics.
"We’ll see how he feels (Wednesday) and see if he makes that last start of the year (on Sunday at Anaheim). We want to do the smart thing and see how he feels."
The Mariners made it two in a row in the playing-out-the-string phase of their season when Danny Valencia’s three-run homer capped a four-run seventh inning at the Oakland Coliseum.
A former Athletic, Valencia crushed a 0-2 fastball from ex-teammate Ryan Dull for a 410-foot drive to center field.
"He’s a two-pitch guy," Valencia said, "and he’s had a lot of success. I’ve played behind him, and I know he’s going to stay on the outside part of the plate. I was really looking for a breaking ball, and he tried to throw a fastball by me."
Valencia’s homer meant Paxton gained a no-decision after exiting once he surrendered the lead on a towering two-run homer to Khris Davis with one out in the sixth inning.
"The pitch that he hit out was actually a pretty good pitch," Paxton said. "I got it in on him, but he hit, and I tip my cap to him. A good piece of hitting."
Davis sent a 95-mph fastball into the seats above the right-field wall. It came on Paxton’s 82nd pitch, and closed his line at three runs and six hits over 5 1/3 innings with five strikeouts and no walks.
"Eighty-five pitches is about the number we were looking for tonight," Servais said. "I was hoping to squeak him through the sixth inning and, unfortunately, he didn’t quite get there."
Even so, it was easily Paxton’s best and longest outing in three starts since he returned from a five-week stay on the disabled list because of a strained left pectoral muscle.
But it wasn’t up to his previous standards: He was 12-3 with a 2.78 ERA in 20 starts prior to the injury. So does he start Sunday against the Angels?
"I’m ready to pitch," Paxton said. "I just want to feel like I’m back to where I was before I got hurt. Tonight was a step in the right direction. Every time I go back out there, I feel I’m getting better and better.
"I feel like one more time out, and I’ll be back to where I was."
Oakland starter Daniel Mengden (2-2) had not allowed a run over 16 innings in winning his two previous starts. That streak ended when he gave up a two-run homer to former Oakland All-Star Yonder Alonso in the fourth inning.
But Davis’ homer meant Mengden carried a 3-2 lead in the seventh before he departed after giving up a single to Alonso and walk to Mike Zunino.
In came Dull, and Valencia turned around a fastball for a 5-3 lead. The Mariners added another run later in the inning on an RBI single by Ben Gamel, who finished with three hits of the Mariners’ 10 hits.
The victory went to Emilio Pagan (2-3), who got the final two outs in the sixth inning before working a scoreless seventh inning. Nick Vincent got his 28th hold by pitching around two singles in the eighth.
Edwin Diaz closed out the victory with a one-two-three ninth for his 33rd save in 37 chances. The Mariners improved to 77-81 with four games remaining and set a franchise record by beating Oakland for the eighth straight time.
***Strong leather: Veteran infielder Gordon Beckham has long had the reputation of a standout defensive player even as his offensive production declined in recent years.
Beckham started at third in place of Kyle Seager and made one of the season’s best defensive plays on Josh Phegley’s foul pop in the seventh inning. Beckham raced across the large foul ground and leaped over the tarp to make the catch.
"In Oakland," Beckham said, "there’s a lot of space. You know that going in. So you can’t really give up on any ball. I knew it was going to be close when he first hit it. So just get over there and try to find the wall and jump."
That catch, alone, was sufficient to qualify as a web gem.
But Beckham then threw a laser to second base while draped on the tarp when Renato Nunez attempted to tag up and advance. Nunez was initially called safe, but the Mariners challenged the call, and a replay review overturned the call.
"My thought is he was probably going to be going," Beckham said. "When I turned around, he was kind of in-between. I was playing a game of chicken with him on whether he was going to go or not. Then he did."
That throw, alone, was sufficient to qualify as a web gem.
Combined, it was a fabulous play.
***More (athletic) defense: Oakland aided Mengden early on with some stout defense. The infield turned inning-ending double plays in the second and third innings, and outfielders made two leaping catches at the wall.
Right fielder Mark Canha ended the first inning by taking extra bases away from Cruz, and center fielder Jake Smolinski started the fourth inning by running down Robinson Cano’s drive and holding onto the ball after bouncing off the wall.
***Closing kick: With Jean Segura still sidelined by a sprained right middle finger, Gamel served as the leadoff hitter for a third straight game and continued a strong finish to his rookie season by getting three hits in four at-bats.
Gamel raised his average to .280. He is batting .317 in his last 17 games with 19 hits in 60 at-bats.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners