James Paxton looked like he was back to his old self on Tuesday.
The Mariners' No. 3 prospect allowed two hits and struck out two over four shutout innings in his first start since May 25 as Double-A Jackson fell to Montgomery, 6-1.
Paxton retired the side in order in three of his four innings. He allowed a leadoff single to Ryan Garko in the second and a one-out single to Michael Sheridan two batters later but got out of the jam by getting Greg Sheridan to hit into a double play.
"Tonight, I was feeling great," said Paxton, who threw 34 of 53 pitches for strikes. "I had my good fastball, my curveball was looking pretty good, it was there in the first, third and fourth inning.
"I threw some changeups tonight, I'm still working on that pitch. I feel like I'm more comfortable with it and I think I'm going to throw it more often."
Paxton, who exited before reaching his pitch limit of 55, missed five weeks after suffering a knee contusion while facing the Biscuits on May 25. Originally expected to miss a week, the 23-year-old left-hander developed tendinitis and was forced to rebuild his strength before coming back. The time away from the mound was a source of frustration for the British Columbia native, but he tried to maintain a positive attitude.
"It was tough," Paxton admitted. "It was tough to be out for that long, especially because I'm a competitive guy; I want to be out there playing. You have to be able to look at the big picture and you have to realize that it's just this year. I'm sure I'll get my innings somewhere and I'm hoping to keep on pitching.
"It felt great [to be out on the mound]. It's tough to be sitting in the dugout and not being in there and contributing. It was good to get out there and contribute again."
Overall, Paxton is 3-3 with a 3.58 ERA in 11 starts for the Generals. He's struck out 54 over 50 1/3 innings while allowing 38 hits.
Moises Hernandez (4-1) took over for Paxton and allowed five runs on six hits over 1 2/3 innings.
Sheridan finished 4-for-4 with a double and Omar Luna plated a pair of runs for Montgomery. Hak-Ju Lee, the Rays' top prospect, reached on a bunt single in the sixth to extend his hitting streak to 14 games.
Jacob Thompson (6-5) yielded an unearned run on two hits over seven innings to win his third straight start.