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Mariners' Paxton returns from DL to face Astros

HOUSTON -- With their postseason hopes hanging by a thread, the Seattle Mariners welcome back their current ace on Friday after their previous ace rejoined the rotation Thursday.

Seattle left-hander James Paxton (12-3, 2.78 ERA) will be reinstated from the disabled list to start the opener of a critical three-game series against the Houston Astros (88-58) at Minute Maid Park.

Paxton last pitched for the Mariners (74-73) on Aug. 10, when he sustained a strained pectoral muscle in a 6-3 loss to the Los Angeles Angels before landing on the 10-day disabled list the following day.

It will mark a career-high 21st start in what has been a breakout campaign for Paxton, who leads the club in wins and strikeouts (138) despite another DL stint in mid-May. His victory total is double his previous single-season high, and Paxton stands 1 1/3 innings from matching the 121 he worked last season, his first year with at least 20 starts on his ledger.

Paxton will be limited to 50 to 60 pitches. His return dovetails with that of right-hander Felix Hernandez, who worked into the fourth inning of the Mariners' 10-4 victory at Texas on Thursday, his first appearance since July 31. Hernandez had been sidelined due to right shoulder bursitis.

Seattle won its third consecutive game and remained 3 1/2 games behind the Minnesota Twins for the second American League wild card.

"I'm excited," Paxton told MLB.com. "I've worked hard to get back. I'm feeling good physically and mentally. I put the work in, and I'm going to go out there and finish out the season and hopefully help get us where we want to be."

Paxton will make his eighth career start against the Astros and fifth at Minute Maid Park. He is 3-2 with a 2.86 ERA over the previous seven appearances, including three dominant starts this season in which he went 2-0 with a 0.45 ERA. Paxton did not record a decision in a 5-3 loss to the Astros on April 5 despite surrendering only two hits and one walk over six shutout innings.

He is 2-0 with a 2.16 ERA in Houston.

Right-hander Charlie Morton (11-7, 3.86 ERA) will start Friday for the Astros, who reduced their magic number to clinch the AL West to three with a 5-2 road victory over the Los Angeles Angels on Thursday.

Morton is 0-2 with a 4.58 ERA over three career starts against Seattle, each coming this season.

The Astros ceded the best record in the AL to the red-hot Indians during their 10-game road trip against division opponents, but Houston is only 2 1/2 games behind Cleveland with 16 games left on the schedule.

While securing home-field advantage in the postseason qualifies as a goal, the Astros are primarily focused on winning their first AL West title and securing their first division crown since claiming the National League Central in 2001.

"I think we all just want to finish strong," said Astros right-hander Brad Peacock, who earned the win Thursday. "It's getting close."

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