Baseball seasons don't just turn around overnight. It takes a pretty healthy sample to determine if a player is simply riding a hot streak or has safely put his struggles behind him
If a short stretch can at least hint at a reversal of fortune, though, James Paxton's last two starts are as good an indication as any.
The Mariners' No. 5 prospect recorded a season-high 11 strikeouts over six scoreless innings Saturday night but did not figure in the decision as Triple-A Tacoma dropped a 2-1 decision to visiting Fresno.
"Definitely, that was by far my best start of the season so far," said Paxton, who allowed three hits and a walk. "Everything felt pretty good. The fastball felt really good. The changeup, when I did throw it, felt good and also the curveball was there tonight. One of those nights where everything was working."
MLB.com's No. 56 overall prospect hasn't given up an earned run in his last two outings, striking out 16 batters and walking three over 12 innings as he's dropped his ERA from 5.70 to 4.75.
The 24-year-old left-hander had struggled through a five-stretch stretch in late May and early June in which he compiled an 8.49 ERA.
"I've been working in the bullpen a lot with our pitching coach, Dwight Bernard, and the big thing is keeping my direction toward the plate. That allows me to keep all my stuff over the plate and cuts down on the walks, all that kind of stuff," Paxton explained. "It's starting to click for me, I'm feeling really good."
The University of Kentucky product was coming off a strong season at Double-A Jackson, where he was 9-4 with a 3.05 ERA and 110 strikeouts against 54 walks in 106 1/3 innings. He's needed to make an adjustment after graduating to the Pacific Coast League.
"These hitters are definitely better than any hitters I've faced in the past," he said. "There are some ex-big leaguers, some pretty good prospects, and it's making me learn how to pitch. It's starting to come around.
"I'm feeling good about what I'm doing right now and I'll keep working hard and hopefully continue to pitch well."
Over 72 innings with the Rainiers, he ranks seventh in the PCL with 76 strikeouts while issuing 32 walks.
On Saturday, he was locked in a pitchers' duel with Fresno's Mitch Lively, who took a no-hitter into the seventh. It was the first time a Grizzlies starter had done that since Tim Lincecum on April 23, 2007.
"We'd love to come out of there with a win tonight, but it was a great battle, a hard game. Definitely one of the good ones," Paxton said.
Mariners No. 6 prospect Brad Miller ended Lively's bid with a leadoff single in the seventh and finished 2-for-3 with a run scored to extended his hitting streak to 18 games. Called up from Jackson last month, he's batting .348/.429/.539 with four homers and 24 RBIs in 22 games with the Rainiers.
Giants No. 2 prospect Gary Brown stretched his hitting streak to 13 games with an RBI double in the eighth, then scored the go-ahead run on Johnny Monell's single.