The one player on the Mariners pitching staff with significantly higher expectations this spring training compared to last is James Paxton, and that’s all because of what he was able to accomplish last season.
The lanky left-hander seemed to transform himself in 2016, utilizing some mechanical tweaks to great success. The result was 10 out of 20 outings that were quality starts, including six in which he lasted seven or more innings and gave up two or less runs.
Mariners pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. joined “Bob, Groz and Tom” on Thursday and said a lot of Paxton’s improvement had to do with an early-season stint in the minors.
“He struggled in the spring, so we sent him back to Triple-A to not only get him some confidence, but to try to get him to have some understanding that he’s got big stuff but he’s gotta be able to get himself in good counts, throw strikes and command his stuff,” Stottlemyre said.
There was a profound impact on Paxton that has helped the 28-year-old British Columbia native become more of a pitcher and less of a thrower.
“He’s always known he’s had great stuff; he never really had a feel for what he was trying to do with it,” Stottlemyre said. “He worked his butt off … and in the process, when he came back up, the confidence was there, it carried over in the pitches, and then you really started to see him kinda grow up and have a much better understanding of who he was.”
Who Paxton was, and now is, is a pitcher who can flirt with triple digits with his fastball, fool hitters left and right with a biting curve, and is more likely than not to go deep into a ball game. Aaccording to Stottlemyre, that was accomplished by Paxton learning more about what he’s trying to accomplish on the mound.
“He gained that understanding, specifically in the second half of the season, of who he was and what he needed to do,” Stottlemyre said. “He told me there was numerous times that he had a handle on his breaking ball, or he had a handle on the command of his fastball, or setting hitters up and understanding not only what he was trying to do, but he was able to do and execute.”