James Paxton is finally catching up after his abbreviated start to spring training. The big left-hander faced hitters for the first time on Wednesday, throwing a 30-pitch live batting practice session to Gabby Guerrero, Ian Miller and fellow Canadian Gareth Morgan.
“I feel really good, healthy,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with my arm. It felt good to get back on the mound and have some hitters in the box.”
Paxton is behind schedule compared to his fellow starting pitchers after injuring both of his wrists in a fall during agility drills before spring training even started. Paxton felt some pain in the wrist/forearm area the next day while playing catch and the Mariners shut him down from throwing as a precaution.
It was a frustrating start, but now he feels like he’s getting back on pace to be ready for the season. Paxton will throw an extended bullpen session with people standing in the batter’s box for the last 20 pitches as preparation for his first Cactus League start on March 17. If all goes as planned, he’ll make four spring training starts before the season.
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Paxton’s command was as expected in his first time facing hitters – a little inconsistent. He admitted that his curveball was a little up in the zone at times. It was a different feeling than throwing a bullpen session.
“When you get a guy in the box for the first time in sixth months, it’s a little weird,” he said. “It’s a different optical thing. It’s good to get back out there and get that feeling again.”
At one point early in the session, pitching coach Rick Waits made Paxton paused and offered some instructions.
“I was working on a different change-up,” he said. “I’m trying to throw a two seam instead of the four seam that I usually throw. I was slowing my arm down a little bit and he wanted me to keep my arm speed up and keep the same arm speed with that pitch.”
A new change-up?
“I’m working on getting a little more movement so that I can use it as a swing and miss pitch as well as light contact,” he said. “I felt like last year my change-up was a little bit straight and a little bit hard. This should be a little bit slower also.”
Paxton said the new change-up came after playing catch this spring.
“I was just king of playing around with stuff and I threw it playing catch,” he said. “It was moving really well and I liked the way it feels in my hand. It was just something I though I’d try.”
The grip is essentially the same.
“I’m holding it pretty much he same way, but I’m just putting the ball in a different place in my hand,” he said.
The downward action that runs away from right-handers could be a big weapon for him if he figures it out.
“I really liked what I’ve seen playing catch with it, it’s just am matter of throwing it more off the mound to get comfortable with it,” he said.