It took him only two starts into his first full MLB campaign, and Seattle Mariners pitcher James Paxton landed on the disabled list. In his only outings, he did manage to impress though, picking up two wins across 12 innings pitched and striking out 13 combined.
The fact that he is a power pitching Canadian southpaw capable of taking over ballgames is nothing new to the Mariners organization. But Paxton’s durability issues probably come with an uneasiness and a lingering stigma still associated with the club’s experience concerning fellow Canadian southpaw, Erik Bedard.
Bedard was acquired by the Mariners in 2008 in a five-for-one deal that sent some promising prospects to the Baltimore Orioles in exchange solely for Bedard. After two new contracts were negotiated and multiple stints on the disabled list, his tenure in Seattle ended in the middle of the 2011 season when he was traded to the Boston Red Sox for a pair of prospects who are no longer in the Mariners’ system. Bedard made 46 starts and compiled a 15-14 record across parts of four seasons in the Mariners’ rotation.
Paxton has been on the disabled list since Apr. 9 with a left latissimus strain. It can be a tricky injury for pitchers, and they often have to be coddled in their rehab when returning from such an injury. Paxton’s recovery time has been pretty typical, though the premature timing of it all should set off some red flags. Paxton is 25 and fairly seasoned after a three-year pitching career at the University of Kentucky. But the stakes are higher at the Major League level. In the modern era of baseball, pitchers feel a lot of pressure to get their velocity in the high 90 mph range. Paxton does exactly that, as his fastball maxed out at 98 mph earlier on in his two April starts. A lengthy stay on the DL so early into a season does nothing for an organization’s confidence in the durability of a pitcher.
However, there are even more red flags attached to hard throwing pitchers. Tommy John surgery has become something of an epidemic for fireballing MLB pitchers in recent years, with Miami Marlins phenom Jose Fernandez being the latest casualty. Though Paxton’s first serious DL stint was not elbow-related, his lack of durability combined with his relative youthfulness and pitch velocity should raise some eyebrows.
Paxton threw a two-inning simulated game early Saturday, and should be set for a rehab assignment in the coming days. This will put him on track to rejoin Seattle’s rotation in early June should there be no further setbacks. All Mariners fans can do is cross their fingers and hope Paxton has overcome his biggest physical adversity during his tenure in Seattle. He is slated to become a free agent in 2020 though, so given that lengthy time frame and the upward trend of UCL (unlnar collateral ligament) tears in power pitchers’ throwing arms, don’t be surprised if Paxton goes under the knife sometime in the coming months of his career.