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Paxton looming large in plans

Paxton looming large in plans

SEATTLE -- While the Mariners top four starters have been outstanding this season, the club has scrambled to fill the fifth spot in the rotation. But manager Lloyd McClendon feels things are looking up in that department with the return to health of James Paxton.

While Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, Chris Young and Roenis Elias have combined to go 42-24 heading into Tuesday's game with Toronto, the fifth starters are a combined 3-11 outside of the 2-0 from Paxton.

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Erasmo Ramirez, Brandon Maurer, Taijuan Walker, Blake Beavan and even spot starter Tom Wilhelmsen have filled in at various times at the bottom of the rotation. But Paxton finally is healthy after nearly four months of shoulder issues and he's coming off 6 1/3 innings of one-run ball against the White Sox as he prepares for his next start Friday in Detroit.

The Mariners held their rotation together despite some missing parts in the first four months and now seem to be full-go heading into the stretch run.

"We missed Kuma [in April]. We missed Paxton for a couple months," McClendon said. "Our fifth starters have given us like two wins out of 23-24 starts. It just speaks volumes about the rest of the guys and what they've done. That's why I'm so excited about Paxton, because he's like a free-agent signing, coming in this late. I look for big things from him. I think he's going to be special for us down the stretch."

The Mariners are currently going with four starters, as Elias is temporarily in Tacoma. He'll throw three or four innings for the Rainiers on Wednesday, then rejoin Seattle's rotation on Aug. 19 in Philadelphia. But for now, there is no opening for top prospect Walker, who threw seven innings of one-run ball with 13 strikeouts in his last start.

"That was certainly a step in the right direction," McClendon said. "It was a nice outing for him and hopefully he can build on that and continue to pitch well."

But McClendon isn't committing to any plans involving Walker returning to the Mariners at this point.

"We haven't sat down and talked about all that," he said. "We just want him to continue to pitch and get better. We'll see where that takes us."

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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