Seattle Mariners Spring Training Battles Heating Up

Paxton, Karns Fighting To Make Rotation

Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, Wade Miley and even Taijuan Walker seem to be early locks to be the front four of the Seattle Mariners starting rotation.  Three veterans followed by Walker, who’s throwing the ball better than he ever has in his still very young career, all look good on paper.

But what of the fifth and final spot of the M’s rotation?

The early results of Cactus League play for the Mariners suggest that James Paxton and Nate Karns are locked in a death struggle for the fifth spot in the M’s rotation.  Both have just a pair of starts to judge them by so far but the early returns and numbers are interesting, to say the least.

James Paxton

A trimmer Paxton has looked good in one start and not so much in another.


Paxton had an excellent start to  his spring training season.  He opened up 2016 by pitching against the San Diego Padres.  Paxton allowed no hits, walked and struck out one and appeared to be pitching freely and easily in the Mariners’ 7-0 win.

It was a great first start for the young left hander who threw a total of 34 pitches, 19 of which were strikes.  Paxton’s new physique that features 20 fewer pounds on his frame appear to be helping his mechanics immensely in the early going.

The second start for Paxton was not nearly as kind.  He was battered for four runs on seven hits over three innings versus the Diamondbacks on Monday.  Paxton didn’t walk anyone, but he gave up a home run and struck out just one in the outing.

While one spring training start can hardly indicate the makeup of a guy, it’s the kind of start than can stick out and look worse than it was when the other guy is not making the same kind of mistakes.

Karns has been steady in his first two spring starts, Nothing bad, but nothing great. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Karns has been steady in his first two spring starts, Nothing bad, but nothing great. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)


In many respects, Karns’ first Mariners spring training start was just like Paxton’s first two combined starts.  In his his Mariners debut, Karns tossed two scoreless innings, allowing a walk and a hit against the San Diego Padres. He threw 32 pitches, including a 22-pitch first inning in which he allowed the two baserunners. In the second inning, Karns needed just 10 pitches to retire the side.

One rough inning in his first start sticks out a bit at this point for Karns, just like the whole second start does for Paxton.  In his second outing, Karns worked three innings, giving up two runs on five hits with no walks or strikeouts.

It wasn’t a bad line for Karns but what was a bit concerning was the fact that Karns was hit relatively hard by Cleveland hitters.  His numbers don’t show this because he benefitted from some good defense behind him.

Who’s It Going To Be?

The good news for both Karns and Paxton is that neither of them have done anything bad enough to lose the job.  The problem is that at least so far, they haven’t exactly done anything to win the job either.  The M’s need one of these guys to step up and take ownership of this roster spot.

A little bit more good news for Paxton and Karns is that this thing is far from being decided.  Both will get at least a few more chances to start.  Both will also see their innings totals go up for each start progressively as new M’s skipper Scott Servais starts to stretch these guys out.

At this point, this race is just too close to call.  If I had to make a choice today, I guess I have to go with Karns.  He’s done an ounce more than Paxton but neither have wowed.

Show me the wow, gentleman.  If you do, we’ll see you in Seattle in April.

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About Brian Scott

Husband, Philosopher, Animal Rights Advocate, and Author Brian is a Spokane native and Gonzaga University grad. Seahawks, Mariners, GU Hoops and Cougar football are the teams that drive his passion for sports. You can catch him on twitter too! Connect with Brian today!
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