Update: Paxton has been shut down for the year after logging 169 2/3 innings between the minor and major leagues.
The Seattle Mariners played spoiler on Tuesday night, sinking the Kansas City Royals 4-0 at Safeco Field. The last thing the Royals — now two games from elimination — needed as they push for a wild card spot, was to run into James Paxton pitching at his potential.
Paxton went deep into the game, tossing seven shutout innings while maintaining his velocity all the way through. If you only looked at what happened with Paxton’s last batter, OF Justin Maxwell, you’d get a pretty good idea of how the hard-throwing southpaw’s evening went:
|3||98||Fastball (Four-seam)||Foul Tip|
The young left-hander sat in the mid-90’s all night with his four-seamer, averaging a tick over 95 mph. To close things out, he reached back and hit 98 on the radar gun with pitch number 97, strike number 65.
While some have been quick to label Paxton as a reliever long term, I’ve personally been a believer. It would be easy to employ confirmation bias after last night’s start, and, maybe I am a little. However, that piece of work is exactly why I have defended Paxton from the bullpen-bound crowd all along: He has tremendous upside. We’re not discussing Blake Beavan here. This is a pitcher who brings almost everything you want from a starting pitcher. He’s got the velocity, the stuff, the repertoire and composure on the mound of a starter, and he maintains those qualities deep into his pitch count.
Yes, the command has been inconsistent. Absolutely, there are things he needs to work on to be a big league starter long term. But you just don’t give up on young pitchers with these tools this early. James Paxton will be a starting pitcher in the majors — be it for the Mariners or otherwise — for at least a few years before any conversion happens. Unlike the aforementioned depth guy above, Paxton will be given every opportunity to clean up his short-list of issues at the game’s top level.
This was, of course, one game. But Paxton dominated a lineup fighting for their playoff life. He was nothing short of brilliant Tuesday, adding to his solid cup of coffee since joining the team at the beginning of September.
Also, consider the gauntlet he’s facing to start his career.
Though the Mariners have been using a six-man rotation for much of the final month of the season, LHP Joe Saunders will not make another start. That means Paxton could have one more test before closing the book on his 2013 campaign. He’s in line to get the call against the AL West Champion Oakland Athletics on closing day this Sunday. If that holds true, Paxton’s first five big league starts will have come exclusively against teams in the thick of playoff races — Tampa Bay, St. Louis, Detroit, Kansas City and finally Oakland. The A’s will be the only of those that had their playoff spot clinched when facing Paxton, but they could still be playing for home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Even if the rookie struggles on Sunday, you have to be thrilled by his effort during this stretch. Maybe big league coaching was the prescription for the holes in his game. We’ll save trade talk for another day, but, for now, it’s ok to feel optimistic about Paxton and the his potential contributions to the 2014 Mariners rotation.
In Mariners history, among starting pitchers making their first four major league appearances:
- Paxton’s three wins rank first and are matched only by Michael Pineda and Bob Wolcott.
- Only Paxton and Freddy Garcia were undefeated after four starts.
- Only Felix has had a lower ERA (1.24) than Paxton’s (1.50).
- Paxton’s 21 strikeouts are tied with Pineda for third, trailing Felix (30), Erik Hanson (27) and Ken Cloude (22).
- Only Felix (4), Beavan (4) and Brandon Maurer (5) had fewer walks than Paxton’s seven.
- No one else has allowed zero runs in two or more games.