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Sports >  Seattle Mariners

There’s a silver lining to the lost season James Paxton is having with the Mariners

UPDATED: Thu., June 17, 2021

Seattle Mariners pitcher James Paxton watts to throw during spring training Feb. 25, 2021, in Peoria, Ariz.  (Associated Press)
Seattle Mariners pitcher James Paxton watts to throw during spring training Feb. 25, 2021, in Peoria, Ariz. (Associated Press)
By Ryan Divish Seattle Times

SEATTLE – Though it’s not his nature to be bitter or angry, it would be understandable if James Paxton broke from his norm of being personable and easygoing to be a little resentful toward the baseball injury gods, who seem to have cursed him and his body to this existence.

But in a season where his powerful left arm finally succumbed to the stress of throwing more than 1,200 innings in a professional career that dates to 2010, requiring Tommy John surgery to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament, and the disappointment of not getting to pitch for Mariners fans who were reveling in his return, he has the anticipation of being a first-time father.

He and his wife, Katie, found out they will be expecting a son in October.

“She’s at 21 weeks now,” Paxton said with a grin. “So we’ve got an offseason baby. The baby’s due on Oct. 24, so that’s really exciting. It’s been nice to be able to be home. It’s been a silver lining to be able to spend time with her before the baby comes.”

So do they have a name picked out for the baby boy?

“Yeah, Little Maple,” Paxton deadpanned.

With Washington opening up and the possibility of the Canadian border opening up, Paxton hopes his parents can come down from British Columbia.

“I haven’t seen my parents in about a year and a half,” he said. “They were just saying, ‘That border better be open by October.’”

The preparation for parenthood has offered a needed emotional distraction while he grinds through the recovery from the Tommy John surgery that also included repairs to a torn flexor tendon.

“I’m ahead of schedule right now,” Paxton said. “Obviously there’s a certain timeline and we can’t really go into it further than a certain degree, but everything’s been going great so far.”

Admittedly, it wasn’t going great April 6 when he walked off the T-Mobile Park mound in the second inning of his first start of the season, feeling discomfort in his elbow and forearm.

After the game Paxton seemed hopeful that it might be something minor compared to the flexor tendon strain he suffered in 2020. The pain wasn’t as significant.

But an MRI and multiple opinions revealed the worst — surgery was needed.

“It was pretty much my only option,” he said. “They told me it was like a classic Tommy John, where I needed it to happen for me in order to come back and throw again. I’m doing whatever I have to do.”

Paxton comes to T-Mobile Park to do his rehab work on a near daily basis.

“I feel great,” he said. “I don’t have any pain issues right now, just focus on my workouts and my rehab and trying to crush that. Now we’re just working on my shoulder strengthening, forearm and scapula strengthening, and I’m in the gym doing cardio and leg workouts. I’m starting to do more and more upper-body stuff. The further I get away from surgery the more and more I can do at the gym.”

He still considers himself a member of the team and still tries to interact with his fellow starting pitchers and participate in their preparation in different ways.

“I come out and I watch the bullpen, talk to guys and watching them throwing,” he said. “I’m talking about pitching and their mechanics or whatever they had questions about I’m here for. I’m just trying to do anything I can to help this team.”

It speaks to how much Paxton was looking forward to playing this season in Seattle. After spending the last three seasons with the Yankees, he relished the opportunity to return to the organization where he blossomed into a solid big-league pitcher.

“I was super excited and I felt great,” he said. “I threw the ball really well in spring training. My first inning was great. I was pumped to be back here pitching and really excited about this team. It just broke my heart that I can’t pitch this season.”

But what about next season?

This was supposed to a season to re-establish his value as a free agent after back surgery and a forearm strain limited him to five starts in 2020.

It’s not like he can throw an offseason bullpen like he did this past year to show he’s healthy. With normal recovery from Tommy John surgery set around 10 to 13 months, he will still be rehabbing and building arm strength.

The body of work is minimal for 2021.

“I think I was pretty effective in that first inning,” he joked. “People just have to go off the kind of guy that I am and what I showed before getting hurt. I think what people saw in spring training for me was the velocity was back. With these kinds of surgeries, the velocity does come back.”

Paxton is realistic in what teams will be offering him.

“Obviously, it won’t be a long-term thing because of what I’ve gone through,” he said. “But I just want a chance to prove myself.”

The Mariners, who traded for reliever Andres Munoz and signed reliever Ken Giles while both were recovering from Tommy John surgery, have yet to approach Paxton about coming back for next season.

“Of course, I would listen,” he said. “It’d be great if we could come to something and work out some sort of deal for me to come back. They haven’t come to me yet. We’ll see where that goes. Right now, I’m just focused on doing my work and trying to get back in the best shape possible.”

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