Paxton threw a bullpen session on Friday and could start on August 31 or Sept. 1 in Oakland.
PHOENIX — With a pain-free and issue-free bullpen on Friday afternoon at Chase Field, the Mariners can now start planning to activate left-hander James Paxton from the disabled list.
Paxton suffered a severe left forearm contusion in the first inning of his start on Aug. 14 when he was struck by a 96 mph line drive off the bat of Jed Lowrie. He started playing catch last week and then moved to the mound on Friday — a major step in his progression.
“It was all great,” said pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre. “He’s not even putting any thought into it when he was on the mound. He was just throwing. To be honest, it was — and I told him this — it was probably as good of a bullpen I’ve seen from him in a long time. We got him cleaned up with his delivery going down the mound. His hand was in a good position. He was letting it go. He was really free and easy. He threw all of his pitches — 25 high intensity pitches.”
Paxton is scheduled to throw another bullpen in a few days.
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“Then we’ll move forward with getting him in a game,” Stottlemyre said. “We are probably looking at the 31st (August) or September 1st. I’m fairly convinced he’s not going to have any problems. In dealing with his other injuries before, he would kind of tip toe around his bullpens. But today he got after it, very high intensity. He was working quick, which is a sign that he’s not thinking about anything.”
The Mariners didn’t want to push Paxton back to quickly and have him pitch in games in the National League games.
“We think its better to keep him in the American League,” manager Scott Servais said. “There’s a lot of things that can happen and we want James to focus on pitching.”
But the bullpen wasn’t just about Paxton’s forearm and health, there was another purpose.
“Since before the All-Star break and with his back stuff, we dug into the analytics because he wasn’t feeling his breaking ball,” Stottlemyre said. “We wanted to make sure his lines and his hand positions were right. But we found he was down a little lower, trying to compensate for the back thing.”
*** With the shuffling in the rotation due to the injury to Paxton, the need to give Marco Gonzales a few days of extra rest and Mike Leake’s recent bout with illness, the Mariners finally settled on a rotation going forward. Servais announced that Wade LeBlanc will start on Saturday and Leake will start on Sunday. Felix Hernandez is scheduled to start on Tuesday in San Diego.
“Talking to Mike yesterday, he’s feeling a little bit better,” Servais said. “We thought Sunday would be the right time to insert him back in there. That’s the plan right now.”
- Saturday — LHP Wade LeBlanc vs. LHP Robbie Ray
- Sunday — RHP Mike Leake vs. RHP Zack Greinke
*** The turnover in the Mariners’ player development staff has started before the end of the minor league season. Mike Miccuci, who was promoted to director of player development for the Mariners’ minor league system, was informed that he won’t be retained for next season.
Miccuci, a close friend of Servais, was hired as a field coordinator before the 2016 season. A former minor league catcher, Miccuci also worked extensively with catchers in the system and was instrumental in implementing some swing changes for Mike Zunino last season with Class AAA Tacoma.