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Astros will utilize depth against Mariners LHP Paxton

HOUSTON -- Astros manager A.J. Hinch began the process of fully utilizing the talent at his disposal on Tuesday, inserting both Evan Gattis and Marwin Gonzalez into the starting lineup after both sat during Opening Day on Monday.

Gattis, who led the Astros in home runs (32) and ranked second on the club in slugging (.508) last season, served as the designated hitter and batted seventh. Gonzalez, so versatile in his utility role in 2016, spelled Yulieski Gurriel at first base. Gattis essentially replaced Nori Aoki despite the presence of Seattle right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma and the fact that Gattis bats right-handed while Aoki hits left.

Hinch made clear that he won't be beholden to righty-lefty matchups and will instead focus on keeping his primary reserves in the mix (reserve outfielder Jake Marisnick will notch his first start on Wednesday). That means when the Astros open a stretch of four consecutive games against southpaw starters on Wednesday night against Mariners left-hander James Paxton (6-7, 3.79 ERA in 2016), Hinch won't react by overloading his lineup with right-handed hitters.

Following Paxton, the Astros will square off with Mariners lefty Ariel Miranda on Thursday night before opening a three-game series with the Kansas City Royals against lefties Jason Vargas on Friday night and ace Danny Duffy on Saturday.

"There'll be some lefties in to face some of these lefties," Hinch said. "They're pretty platoon-neutral with Paxton and Miranda, even Vargas. Duffy is a little tougher on lefties when we see him against Kansas City.

"Our lefties can handle them. I'm not going to just sit all left-handed hitters against left-handed pitching or vice versa. It'll be spread out as you expect."

Astros right-hander Charlie Morton will start opposite Paxton, who came on in the second half of 2016, finishing 4-4 with a 3.72 ERA and 72 strikeouts over 72 2/3 innings. After posting a 1.59 WHIP before the All-Star Game, Paxton had a 1.12 WHIP in the second half of the season.

"I thought he made huge strides for us last year," Mariners manager Scott Servais said. "I thought, down the stretch, he was probably one of our most consistent guys as far as getting deep into games and really being able to make adjustments with his stuff throughout the course of the game.

"Earlier in his career, you kind of knew (in the) first or second inning if he had it going on and if he was landing his secondary pitches. A number of outings last year he might not have had it in the first or second inning but he worked his way through it. You look up and now you're in the seventh inning and he's having a heck of a ballgame."

Paxton has long been ballyhooed, but injuries and inconsistency plagued him prior to last season. Still, he produced just 20 starts in 2016 and stands poised to cash in on his talent and the experience he gained down the stretch.

"He understands his delivery, understands who he is probably better than any time in his career," Servais said. "So why not? Why shouldn't he take the next step forward?"

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