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James Paxton finds ways to get out of trouble and win in his Dodgers debut

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 1, 2024: Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher James Paxton.

After the hysteria of home-opening weekend, one that culminated with Sunday’s dramatic win against the St. Louis Cardinals, the Dodgers’ performance Monday night felt much more like a routine, weekday work shift.

There was little flash. Not much pizzazz. But, behind a scoreless five-inning start from James Paxton and back-breaking three-run home run from Teoscar Hernández in the sixth, there was plenty of substance in an 8-3 win over the San Francisco Giants at Dodger Stadium.

Paxton epitomized the victory in his team debut, working in and out of trouble to help the Dodgers (5-2) protect an early lead.

Read more: Dodgers continue their home-run hitting ways in comeback over Cardinals

Signed to an incentive-laden $7 million deal this offseason, Paxton put nine runners on base in his 97-pitch outing (four hits, five walks). He retired the side in order only once, letting runners reach scoring position in three of the other four innings.

“I didn’t really feel like sharp,” Paxton said. “Five walks, I was kind of in and out of good rhythm.”

However, the veteran left-hander never cracked, not even with the bases loaded following a pair of two-out walks in the fifth.

Dodgers shortstop Mookie Betts races around the bases on his way to a triple.Dodgers shortstop Mookie Betts races around the bases on his way to a triple.

Instead, Paxton stranded eight runners while holding the Giants (2-3) hitless in four at-bats with runners in scoring position. He racked up five strikeouts with a heavy dose of four-seam fastballs, which accounted for 70% of his pitches. And in the most pivotal moment of the game, he extinguished the fifth-inning threat by inducing a soft groundout from Wilmer Flores.

“He didn’t have his best stuff,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “But it was what you would expect from James. A seasoned veteran who he made pitches when he needed to.”

The Dodgers gave Paxton some early support, manufacturing one run in the first on a Mookie Betts triple and Shohei Ohtani groundout, then two more in the third after Betts walked, Ohtani doubled, Freddie Freeman hit an RBI single and Will Smith added a sacrifice fly.

“It’s quality at-bat after quality at-bat,” Smith said. “Obviously a lot of talent, guys who know how to drive guys in. It’s fun to be a part of.”

Still, it wasn’t until the sixth, when the Giants cut the lead to 3-1, that Hernández put the game out of reach, launching a hanging side-arm slider from San Francisco

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