James Paxton has now made two solid start in the big leagues. On September 7, the 6-foot-5 left-hander held Tampa Bay to four hits and an earned in six frames at Safeco field in his big-league debut. He fanned three and issued one walk, throwing 59 of 95 pitches for strikes.
Saturday, Paxton made his first road start in St. Louis and yielded but two hits in six shutout frames. He walked two of 22 batters faced and struck out five Cardinals.
In the minors, Paxton was very inconsistent. He had stretches where he looked great for three or four innings and then came undone and his overall line ended up all crooked and unclean. He also had stretches of multiple starts where he either was terrific, or couldn’t get beyond the fourth or fifth inning, often running up his pitch count and allowing too many batters to reach base, many by way of the base on balls.
On the surface, it may just seem like Paxton has simply thrown more strikes in his two major league outings, limiting the walks and therefore holding down the runs that would ultimately cross the plate.
That isn’t true, however. In his first start, Paxton threw 62 percent strikes. In the minors, for the season, he threw 62 percent strikes. He did throw 67 percent strikes versus the playoff-bounds Cards, but that’s merely five more strikes per 100 than he’s averaged all season.
The difference is where Paxton is missing when he does not throw a strike. It’s more often been down in the zone than his typical outing in the minors. He did this in Tacoma, too, for a start or two here and there, and even for a little longer stretch the second half of the year. For the most part, however, he’d miss up and/or catch too much of the plate and get hurt.
Paxton has pitched at 92-96, toughing as high as 98, and is doing a good job of throwing downhill, creating plane. He’s following through, finishing out front and thus keeping the ball down a lot more. The curveball has been average, with a few plus editions mixed in, and he’s throwing his changeup to right-handed batters with effectiveness.
Paxton, 24, has No. 2 upside if he can find a way to replicate the mechanics he’s employed in the majors. The jury is still out, and won’t be fnished deliberating until well into next season, perhaps longer, but we know how good Paxton could be if he puts it altogether.
The Cardinals know, too.