Paxton stymies Tigers in Mariners’ 8-0 victory

DETROIT — This is what a team’s ace does.

With his team reeling on a trip and still feeling the effects of an emotional and embarrassing gut punch of a loss the night before and the knowledge of two key players being placed on the disabled list before that day’s game, an ace goes out there and redirects a listing team and provides stability needed with a solid performance.

For the better part of a decade, Felix Hernandez had that title locked up for the Mariners. But he’s headed back to Seattle with an ailing shoulder.

By process of elimination and perhaps the natural order of things like talent and performance, James Paxton is now the de facto Mariners’ ace in the interim, and possibly moving forward. And he delivered a performance commensurate of his elevated status in the Mariners’ 8-0 victory against the Tigers in Detroit.

Paxton tossed seven shutout innings, allowing just four hits while striking out nine with a walk to improve to 3-0 and lower his earned-run average to 1.39.

On a day when the Mariners placed Hernandez and hot-hitting outfielder Mitch Haniger on the disabled list and Kyle Seager was out of the lineup with hip issues, Paxton made sure a very Cactus League-looking lineup playing behind him didn’t need to worry much about run support.

Not all seven of his innings were simple, but they were scoreless. The closest the Tigers came to scoring against him was in the second inning when Victor Martinez singled and former Mariners’ prospect John Hicks slammed a double to deep right-center that bounced off the wall. If it were any other Tigers player on the roster, a run would have been scored. But Martinez and his beat up and pieced-together knees simply wouldn’t allow him to score from first. He had to stop at third. Paxton came back to strike out James McCann and Dixon Machado to end the frame.

Two more times, the Tigers put runners on first and second with one out. In the fourth, Paxton struck out Hicks and McCann to end the threat, while in the seventh, his final inning of work, he got Machado to hit into a double play to end the inning and his outing.

There has never been a question about Paxton’s talent. Selected in the fourth round of the 2010 draft, he was always considered one of Seattle’s best pitching prospects, thanks largely to a fastball that could touch the upper 90s. But his path to this new level has been as varied as the veins of the intricately designed maple leaf tattoo on his forearm — a symbol of pride in his Canadian heritage.

But coming into this season, the kid, who once looked hopelessly lost and socially out of place after signing late in his first big-league camp, and somewhat passive in years that followed, is now carrying himself like a pitcher who expects to be good every time he takes the mound.

In late January, in front of large group of assembled media at the Mariners’ pre-spring training luncheon, Paxton embraced expectations — something he wasn’t as comfortable to do in past seasons filled with them.

“This is my season to take off,” he said. “I’m ready to be who I can be, and what I think I can be.”

The Mariners need him to be that and more with Hernandez out for an unknown amount of time, lefty Drew Smyly out till July with a flexor strain in his forearm and a remaining rotation of pitchers that can’t match his talent or potential.

Even with the absence of Haniger for possibly a month, the promise of decent run support for Paxton and the rest of the staff is attainable

While he needed a minimal amount on Wednesday, his teammates provided ample offense.

Seattle jumped on Tigers starter Daniel Norris in the second inning, scoring three runs on an RBI single from Jean Segura and a two-run homer from Guillermo Heredia.

The Mariners continued to add to the total. In the fifth inning with bases loaded, Ben Gamel, who was called up earlier in the day and playing in his first big-league game of the season, fell behind 0-2 and then worked a seven-pitch walk to make it 4-0.

Nelson Cruz made it 6-0 with his fifth homer since April 10, pushing his American League-leading RBI total to 19.

Segura notched his third hit of the night with an RBI double in the seventh to make it 7-0, giving him six hits in two games since returning from the disabled list. It became 8-0 on a hustling play from Danny Valencia to score after a Tigers error in the ninth.