James Paxton feeling comfortable with re-worked delivery, spot in Mariners’ rotation set

Mar 9, 2017, 5:14 PM
"I'm not kind of lost like I was last spring training, which is a good feeling," James Paxton said....
"I'm not kind of lost like I was last spring training, which is a good feeling," James Paxton said. (AP)

MESA, Ariz. – What a difference a year makes. James Paxton came to camp last February knowing he would have to fight for a position in the Mariners’ starting rotation. You know the story. He struggled and found himself the odd man out, destined for Tacoma. This year, he has his spot – a spot he earned by making changes during his time at Triple-A – and can focus on preparing for a season.

“I feel healthy, feeling really good,” Paxton said Thursday following the Mariners’ 8-6 win over the Cubs. “I’m just continuing to work on the mechanical thing. I’m not kind of lost like I was last spring training, which is a good feeling. Having an idea and knowing what I need to do is a good feeling.”

Photos, videos and updates from Mariners spring training

Paxton threw three innings Thursday. The only blemish was falling behind and going to a fastball that Anthony Rizzo crushed for a solo shot. He retired the next seven batters, striking out five of them.

“Paxton was the story of the day for me,” manager Scott Servais said. “Paxton was on top of his game against their A lineup. He was using all of his pitches, using both sides of the plate. Very encouraging.”

Said Paxton: “I had a good curveball, good cutters. Everything was feeling good, fastball moving around, getting it up in the zone when I wanted to, which is good for me.”

The adjustment Paxton made with his delivery last year has been largely committed to muscle memory. An offseason of hard work and study have contributed to the comfort level he now has in his ability to repeat the delivery, pitch after pitch, outing after outing. Knowing he is in the Mariners’ rotation gives him more time to focus on the repeatability.

“I love it,” he said of what he is able to do this spring versus last. “It’s great to have drills. I know what I need to do to lock myself in.”

Should he start to lose the consistency with his delivery, Paxton feels now he can make quick in-game adjustments. There are checks he can go back to to ensure he is mechanically sound.

“I can feel it or (pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr.) can tell me I’m getting too high or too low, and I have got a position I get to,” Paxton said. “In the offseason I was doing mirror drills to make sure I get to the same spot every time. I know if it starts getting haywire, I can go back to that and find it every time.”

Paxton worked on mirror drills three to four times a week when he was working out at Safeco Field this winter. He would do 50 run-throughs of the delivery, stopping when he hit the correct “spot.”

“It’s just getting that front-side glove to the right position so I can come through in the right spot,” he said. “Everything kind of syncs up when I get to that spot.”

A good start by Paxton Thursday was followed by another good inning from Evan Scribner.

“You take him for granted. Just kind of automatic,” Servais said of Scribner. “He goes right after them. Located and got the great curveball, offspeed the back and forth. Great to see there.”

On the offensive side, Mike Zunino got the best of former Mariners left-hander Mike Montgomery, hitting the second pitch he saw over the left-field wall. Danny Valencia, whose bat has been slow to come around this spring, had two hits. Taylor Motter had two hits and two nice plays at third base.

The Mariners and Cubs face off again Friday in Peoria.

Shannon Drayer

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