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SEA@LAA: Paxton strikes out nine over seven scoreless

ANAHEIM -- A Mariners pitching staff with a lot of questions coming into the season continued providing stunning early answers Wednesday night, when rookie left-hander James Paxton stepped up with seven shutout innings as Seattle completed a three-game sweep of the Angels with an 8-2 win.

The Mariners are minus All-Star right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma and top young prospect Taijuan Walker due to spring injuries, but Seattle outscored the Halos 26-8 in the series and opened the year with a 3-0 record for just third time in franchise history and first since 1995.

It was Seattle's first series sweep at Angel Stadium since 2006, and the first time the Angels were swept in a three-game season-opening series since 1992.

Though the Mariners have precious little starting experience behind ace Felix Hernandez, Paxton followed Erasmo Ramirez's strong start Tuesday with an even more dominant outing as the 6-foot-4 rookie held the Angels to two hits and two walks with nine strikeouts in a smooth 99-pitch performance.

"That was pretty impressive," said Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon. "I don't know what else to say. I can add a lot more adjectives, but he was outstanding. It was quite a performance."

Catcher Mike Zunino's three-run home run in the sixth paced the offensive outburst, but Paxton was the story of the game for Seattle as the 25-year-old Canadian ran his scoreless streak to 16 straight innings dating back to last year.

Paxton was outstanding in four September starts as a late-season callup last year and now is 4-0 with a 1.16 ERA in five Major League outings.

"This was right up there with that Kansas City start last year," said Paxton, who blanked the Royals for seven innings with 10 strikeouts in his 2013 finale. "I got in a groove and just felt really good."

Paxton's next start will be Tuesday in the Mariners' home opener against the Angels at Safeco Field.

"He was hitting his spots," Angels first baseman Albert Pujols said after an 0-for-4 night. "He was pretty tough. He was going from 91 to 98 miles per hour. No effort, too. He has a great future ahead of him. I'm pretty sure we're going to see him next week, too. Obviously he made his pitches when he needed."

Zunino said Paxton picked up right where he left off last year but has added an improved cutter that comes in on left-handers and is comfortable pounding inside against right-handers as well with his lanky, over-the-top delivery.

"When it's 97 [mph] and he's 6-4 and elbows and arms and knees coming at you, no one ever seems comfortable in there," Zunino said. "If he can continue to command the baseball in and out of the zone, he's going to have a lot of success this year."

The Mariners beat Angels standouts Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson in the first two games, then knocked off newcomer Hector Santiago in the series finale, cranking out 13 hits and again taking advantage of the Halos' bullpen in the late innings.

Zunino's three-run blast came after Fernando Salas replaced Santiago in the sixth as the Mariners broke the game open with four runs in that frame and then added back-to-back solo home runs by Justin Smoak and Corey Hart in the top of the ninth.

Smoak went 2-for-5 and is batting .462 (6-for-13) with two home runs and seven RBIs, while Hart's bomb was his first as a Mariner after signing as a free agent.

"Corey's at-bats got progressively better throughout the night, and he capped it off with a good one," McClendon said. "It was really good to see that. We need him to be successful if we're going to be successful."

Rookie right fielder Stefen Romero picked up his first Major League hit with a single in the fourth, then greeted Salas with an RBI double in the sixth. When Zunino followed with his first homer of the season with Romero on second and Hart on third, the Mariners were in control.

"It was just one of those where I was looking at the guy's pitch breakdown, and he was sort of 50-50 on fastballs and sliders with runners in scoring position," Zunino said. "He just left a slider up. I was really honestly just trying to hit the ball in the outfield so Corey could tag and I was able to run into one."

Shortstop Brad Miller got things started again with a hustle double in the third, sliding under the tag of Howie Kendrick on a throw from right fielder Kole Calhoun, then scoring on Robinson Cano's single up the middle.

"He's a good player," McClendon said of Miller. "He's a rug rat. He goes at it pretty good. That's why I like him in the two-hole."

The RBI was Cano's first as a Mariner, and the new $240 million second baseman continued producing early and often, going 2-for-4 with a walk. Cano has reached base in 9-of-15 plate appearances in three games, hitting .455 (5-for-11) with four walks.

Miller continued his own hot start with a 2-for-5 night and is hitting .333 with four RBIs. For the Mariners, it was the perfect way to start a new season as they head now to Oakland for four games with the A's.

"It's definitely something to build on," said Zunino. "We're excited about it, we're playing good baseball and hopefully we can carry that over."

"Seattle came and brought everything," Angels third baseman David Freese said. "They pitched, hit and played defense. And we didn't do very much of any of that."

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