A healthy James Paxton arrived at Mariners' FanFest with a slimmer frame and a motivation to move past the last two injury-filled seasons and fulfill lofty expectations for success.
James Paxton made his intentions for the 2016 season pretty clear.
“It’s time for me to show I can last for an entire season,” he said.
The big left-hander arrived at Safeco Field on Saturday for FanFest weekend noticeably slimmer and free from the injury issues that have derailed his past two seasons.
On Thursday, Mariners’ trainer Rick Griffin mentioned that Paxton had lost 20 pounds over the offseason working out. It looked as though he may have lost more.
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Paxton surprised teammates and fans with his new frame.
“He looks really athletic,” Taijuan Walker said.
After weighing around 240 pounds and higher during the 2015 season, Paxton’s has shed over 20 pounds off his frame. He looks similar to his first years in the organization.
“When I came in I was right about 215-220, that’s where I’m kind of hovering at now,” he said.
There was nor fad diet or special workout. Since he lives in Kirkland in the offseason, Paxton came to Safeco each day to work out.
“I just added in some more agility stuff for my workouts, ate a little bit less of the same food I was eating and it just worked,” he said. “It’s been awesome. “
Paxton was admittedly heavier than he wanted to be and knew he needed to shave off some pounds.
“It was a little bit planned,” he said. “The trainers and Rick had talked to me about losing 10 pounds or so, and I did a little more than that and I feel better.”
That should help him in his mechanics on the mound and his fielding off it.
“I think just overall I won’t get as tired,” he said. “I won’t be moving around as much weight and I think it will be easier for me to control.”
And the injuries?
“Hopefully, I’m done with those and ready to move on,” he said.
The injury issues at the big league level started in 2014 when a strained lat muscle sidetracked his season. He went down on April 9 and then developed shoulder tendinitis during his recovery, keeping him out almost four months.
Last season, a strained middle finger tendon suffered during a start on May 28 kept him out until September. He also dealt with a torn fingernail in his final outings of the season as well.
“My lat injury was because I was working out too hard,” he said. “I needed to draw back a little bit once the season started and I’ve learned that. The finger stuff I feel like that was just a fluke thing and bad luck.”
In his last two seasons, he’s made a total of 26 starts, posting a 9-8 record with a 3.45 ERA.
Soft-spoken and friendly, Paxton bristles and grows quickly irritated when people label him as being injury-prone or soft.
“I’d say you don’t know what you are talking about,” he said. “I can’t control a finger injury. It’s not like I’ve blown out my elbow or my shoulder and it’s not cause I don’t work out or work hard. I’m just going to go out there and do what I do, and trust that the work that I’ve done is going to keep me healthy.”
And he is healthy now. The strained finger wasn’t an issue at the end of the season. But the torn fingernail was a problem after he returned. He tore it during a rehab start on Sept. 2 and tried to pitch with it in his final three outings of the season, but it was an issue that affected his pitches, particularly his curveball.
The nail is fully healed now. Paxton showed the media and it looked normal, unlike the mangled mess in September.
“It has happened very slowly,” he said. “It’s just started looking this good the last couple of weeks.”
Despite the frustration of the annoying injury, Paxton maintained a sense of humor about it.
“I’ve been taking my nail pills – you know for fingernails, skin and hair,” he said. “You can pick them up at your local Target. I’ve been taking those. The nail feels as strong as the other nails. I don’t think there’s going to be any more issues.”
One benefit of the nail issue was that Paxton made his seven starts in the Arizona Fall League without being able to throw is curveball to protect it. It forced him to work on other aspects with minor league pitching coach Rich Dorman.
“I honestly think it’s going to help me a lot,” he said. “We were working on fastball location and a high fastball and my changeup. My changeup has gotten way better and I feel lot more comfortable with that pitch now. The high fastball changed everything. Guys are always kind of looking down in the zone with me because I have that angle. But when I change that angle and throw a high fastball so they can’t cheat down there all the time. It makes a lot harder for them. I’m looking forward to continuing to work on that this spring.”
It will be a spring with some competition. Despite his obvious talent, Paxton isn’t guaranteed of a starting spot. With Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and Wade Miley having rotation spots locked up, it leaves two spots open for Walker, Paxton and Nathan Karns. It means one of the three will start the season at Class AAA.
“It’s going to be competitive thing,” he said. “That’s what baseball is. Nobody said it was going to be easy. I’m looking forward to the competition.”
*** It appears that first baseman Travis Ishikawa won’t be joining the Mariners at spring training on a minor league contract. Reports of the pending deal emerged last week. But baseball sources are now saying that the deal likely won’t get done and Ishikawa will look elsewhere.
*** With Jesus Sucre out for the next six months with a broken leg, the Mariners are on the verge of adding some minor league catching depth. The team is finalizing a deal to sign veteran Stephen Lerud to a minor league contract with an invite to big league spring training. Lerud, 31, spent the 2015 season with the Nationals’ Class AAA affiliate in Syracuse. He played in 60 games and hit .238 with a .621 OPS. Lerud provides organizational depth.
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