Don't expect Mariners left-hander James Paxton to throw much more than 100 pitches against the Orioles on Saturday night in his first big league start in nearly four months.
"They haven't discussed pitch count. But last time I threw 78, so I assume I'm ready to go 90-95 pitches or somewhere in there," Paxton said. "As far as innings or how many times I get up and down, I'm not sure. I'm just going to pitch until they pull me off that mound."
Paxton's last appearance on a Major League rubber was April 8, when he was forced to leave his second start of the season with a strained left lat muscle. He felt soreness in his left shoulder after making a three-inning rehab start with Triple-A Tacoma on May 24, and, after being shut down with inflammation, he underwent another rehab circuit of long toss sessions, simulated games and more Minor League outings to get back to this point.
In two starts this season, Paxton is 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA, so he should be a welcome addition for a Mariners team in the thick of the race for the second American League Wild Card spot.
"Having the success I've had early on really built my confidence up," Paxton said. "I'm going out there tomorrow just trying to help the team win and focus on one pitch at a time."
Meanwhile, the Orioles' entire rotation has been excellent for the past two months -- since June 9, Baltimore's staff ranks sixth in the Majors with a 3.10 ERA. Saturday starter Miguel Gonzalez has been one of the biggest surprises.
Gonzalez posted a 1.82 ERA with a .218 opponents' batting average in July and lowered his ERA to 3.77. His shortest outing of the month came against the Mariners last Sunday, and even then, he went six innings and allowed just one run on eight hits.
"I felt like every inning, there [were] some runners on," Gonzalez said. "Just tried to minimize whenever I wasn't doing well and making pitches when I needed to. Our defense was great tonight, and even our offense battled."
Mariners: Morales off to slow start
Kendrys Morales got his first start at first base for the Mariners since his acquisition from the Twins in Friday's series opener. The veteran is off to a slow start at the plate as a designated hitter, but he did hit an RBI double in the 2-1 loss to the Orioles.
"I think he's starting to get it a little bit," said manager Lloyd McClendon. "Listen, it didn't serve him well to not have a Spring Training. Going right to the big leagues with Minnesota was kind of tough, but he's starting to find his groove, starting to feel it a little bit and get his rhythm. I look for him to get a little better every day."
Looking to get right-handed hitting Corey Hart into the lineup against lefty Wei-Yin Chen, McClendon had Morales at first so Hart could DH on Friday. The O's have a pair of right handers pitching the final two games of the series, so it's not clear if that combination will be used again in Baltimore. But McClendon said he's open to the option of Morales at first base more often, as Logan Morrison has hit just .129 over his last 19 games.
"Kendrys is very adept over there," McClendon said. "He's more than capable of playing first base."
Orioles: Showalter discusses former closer Johnson
On Friday, manager Buck Showalter didn't rule out the possibility of the O's signing free agent Jim Johnson.
Johnson led the big leagues in saves the past two seasons (he tied with Atlanta's Craig Kimbrel in 2013) while pitching for Baltimore, but after an offseason trade to Oakland, he quickly lost his closer job and continued to struggle while posting a 7.14 ERA in 38 games. The A's designated him for assignment July 24, then released him Friday.
"I think he's on his way to Sarasota, [Fla.,]" Showalter said. "I know [Aberdeen pitching coach Scott] McGregor is real close with him, and if he becomes completely available, I'm sure there's a lot of people who would have interest in him, including us."
"But we're not allowed to talk about him, and I just did."
• Mariners catcher Mike Zunino has hit 10 home runs over his last 31 games. In that span, since June 20, the only players with more home runs in the Majors are Jose Abreu, Anthony Rizzo and Carlos Santana, with 11 each.
• Seattle will have to make a corresponding 25-man roster move Saturday when it activates Paxton from the 60-day disabled list.
Adam Lewis is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.