PEORIA, Ariz. -- With Hisashi Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker sidelined for at least the first few weeks of the regular season by injures, James Paxton might wind up earning a rotation berth with the Mariners this spring by default.
But the young left-hander looks more like a guy ready to claim a job outright in the early going of Cactus League play as he rang up another scoreless outing with three shutdown innings in Seattle's 8-5 loss to the Indians on Wednesday.
Paxton has posted five shutout frames in two starts. He allowed just two hits with no walks and a strikeout on Wednesday, building again on his outstanding September as a late-season callup in 2013.
Going 3-0 with a 1.50 ERA in four starts down the stretch against the playoff-contending Rays, Cardinals, Tigers and Royals did wonders for the 25-year-old's outlook coming into this spring.
"It's a lot different," Paxton said. "Having that opportunity to go in September and do what I did really helped build my confidence. Having the success I did really showed me I belonged and can compete at that level."
Facing largely a second-unit Indians lineup, Paxton gave up a first-inning single to Ryan Raburn and a leadoff double in the second to Matt Carson, but otherwise kept Cleveland off balance. Eight of his nine outs never left the infield, including groundouts by the last five batters he faced.
"I just continued working on fastball command and moving in and out," Paxton said. "I threw some more curveballs today. They were feeling good. The first inning I left a few up, but I got on top of some and was feeling good. I was working on the changeup today and threw a few of those I was happy with. And the cutter, I left one up in the first inning, then threw a few others that felt pretty good. So my stuff is coming along."
With Iwakuma out, the only sure thing in the Mariners rotation is Felix Hernandez. Veteran non-roster invitees Scott Baker and Randy Wolf are competing for spots, along with youngsters Paxton, Erasmo Ramirez, Blake Beavan and Brandon Maurer.
This spring, Seattle's starters have allowed just two runs in 18 2/3 innings for a 0.96 ERA in eight games, though nobody is throwing more than three innings so far as they build up arm strength.
Pryor feels strong after fourth bullpen session
PEORIA, Ariz. -- For right-handed reliever Stephen Pryor, the toughest part about Mariners camp so far is pacing himself and not pushing too fast as he returns from a difficult tendon-repair surgery behind his right shoulder.
Pryor threw his fourth bullpen session of the spring Tuesday and said he felt great Wednesday morning, but he knows he needs to keep listening to the doctors and trainers who caution him against firing full out and are preventing him from facing live hitters as he works his way back from a near full season on the disabled list in 2013.
"They keep the shock collar on to keep me from doing too much," Pryor said with a smile. "It's hard because I'm feeling good and not getting sore, so I'm wanting to go. But it's smart to not rush into it. It's a long season and I want to feel good all the way through September and October even, if we get that opportunity."
Pryor hopes to be ready to contribute sometime in the first few months of the regular season, but there's no exact timetable. Jake Peavy is the only other Major League pitcher to have had the same tendon reattachment procedure, so Pryor is in fairly uncharted waters.
He threw 30 pitches Tuesday, including eight breaking balls for the first time, and said he was working at about 80-85 percent of his normal capacity. He hopes to keep ratcheting that effort level up in coming sessions, with the next one slated for sometime this weekend.
"I feel good right now," he said. "I know it'll be a little different with a hitter in the box and adrenaline and stuff. I'm anxious to see how I'll feel from that standpoint."
Pryor, 24, was a big part of Seattle's bullpen plans a year ago, but injured his shoulder after seven scoreless appearances in the first few weeks of April. The Mariners would love to have him back in the mix as soon as possible this season, but know patience is required.
"We're going very slow and deliberate and that's on purpose," said manager Lloyd McClendon. "We're not going to rush this young man. He's throwing good, he feels good. But we need to get that velocity up where it needs to be for him to be the dominant guy we know he can be. You just can't rush the process."
• Closer Fernando Rodney will make his first Cactus League appearance Thursday when the Mariners face the White Sox in Glendale. Rodney, 36, has been brought along slowly as per his usual spring schedule, restricted to bullpens and a couple live batting practice sessions to this point.
He'll pitch in relief of Scott Baker, who will make his second spring start. Randy Wolf, the other veteran coming back from Tommy John surgery, will throw Friday against the Reds in Peoria. Both pitchers have felt fine after their initial spring outings and will be extended to three innings this time out.
• Felix Hernandez's next scheduled outing is Sunday against the Rangers in Peoria. The Mariners ace made his first Cactus League start Tuesday with two scoreless frames against the Dodgers.
• The Mariners first ROOT Sports televised game isn't until March 12, but there will be three MLB Network telecasts before then, including live telecasts of Saturday's 6 p.m. PT split-squad game against the Dodgers and a 1 p.m. game Tuesday against the Angels. MLB Network will also show Saturday's split-squad game against the Giants on a tape delay at 1 a.m. Sunday morning.