TACOMA, Wash. -- Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon made public his message to rehabbing left-handed pitcher James Paxton a few hours before Paxton took the mound for the first leg of Triple-A Tacoma's doubleheader on Tuesday at Cheney Stadium.
"I just want him to get the pitch count up, come away healthy and just have a clean start, whatever the numbers are, they are," McClendon said. "Just get to that pitch count."
That pitch count was set between 55 and 60, and it took Paxton just three innings to reach the latter. He allowed three runs (two earned) on three hits and a walk with four strikeouts in a 4-0 Rainiers loss to Las Vegas.
Paxton took the loss, but the No. 3 prospect in the Mariners organization bounced back nicely after a 32-pitch first inning.
Paxton (2-0, 2.25 ERA) began the game by allowing a leadoff home run to Las Vegas outfielder Matt den Dekker. Later in the inning, cleanup hitter Josh Satin deposited a 3-2 fastball into Cheney Stadium's "R" Yard, a special seating section perched beyond the left-field wall. An unearned run scored on the homer because a line drive glanced off the mitt of Rainiers third baseman Gabriel Noriega earlier in the frame for an error.
Paxton said both homers came on fastballs up in the strike zone and were the result of rusty mechanics.
"They said in the first inning I was drifting [toward first base], so I was kind of aiming the ball a little bit, which I agree with. I was trying to place it a little bit," he said. "So I just kind of went after them after that."
Paxton was better in the second, allowing only a two-out single to den Dekker. He then worked a 1-2-3 third, striking out Satin and first baseman Andrew Brown. He followed his outing with a 10-fastball side session in the left-field bullpen.
"I felt fine afterward," he said. "They wanted to get me up for a fourth time ... so I could get the up-and-down feeling again. That was kind of the purpose of that."
Paxton, whose fastball can reach the upper 90s, said his changeup was his best pitch on Tuesday. But that wasn't his biggest takeaway.
"I think the most important thing is being healthy and making sure that's nothing wrong," he said. "The second thing is just starting to tighten things up and get that good feel back."
After all, it's been a while.
Expected to fill a role in the middle of the Mariners' rotation entering the season, the 6-foot-4, 220-pound rookie hasn't pitched in the big leagues since he left his second start, on April 8 against the Angels, because of a strained left lat muscle. He landed on the disabled list and his stay was extended when he experienced left shoulder pain after a three-inning rehab start with the Rainiers on May 24.
Paxton is expected to make at least one more start with Tacoma before rejoining the Mariners.
Adam Lewis is an associate reporter for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.