James Alston Paxton
Height: 6'4" Weight: 220
Bats/Throws: Left / Left
Born: 11/06/1988 in Ladner, British Columbia, Canada
College: University of Kentucky
Nickname: Big Maple
Acquired: Signed as a free agent (02/18/2021)
MLB Debut: 09/07/2013
Free Agent after: 2021 season
Twitter handle: @James_Paxton
Well, that didn't take long. The feel-good return of the Big Maple turned into a disappointing frustration with yet another injury to our favorite Canadian pitcher cropping up just five batters into his first start of the season. Paxton is undergoing elbow surgery that will keep him out of action for the entire year, and since he's only on a one-year contract, we may not see him pitch in Seattle again. Or maybe we will. Pax took a "hometown discount" salary to sign with Seattle this season, he might do so again. Who knows. Meantime, the team hasn't confirmed or denied that the surgery is the Tommy John sort, but that was reportedly the recommendation of doctors.
Sigh. We'll miss you, Pax.
He's back! Traded away to the hated New York Yankees as part of the rebuild effort after the 2018 season, the Big Maple played out his contract in the Bronx and then decided to come home, signing a one-year free-agent deal. "We know what Pax can do, what he brings to the table for us. Having grown up as a Mariner … I think he’s a great guy to put in our clubhouse with a lot of young players," said manager Scott Servais. "I think that it’s a great fit for him and a really great fit for us."
The author of the Mariners' most recent no-hitter, Paxton gives the young Seattle rotation a welcome veteran presence. At 32, he's the oldest member of the pitching staff as well as the most experienced in the Majors, and as such he's taken on a mentor's role with some of the younger hurlers. "I love working with young guys,” Paxton said. “I can teach them about the big leagues and things I have learned along the way." Justin Dunn, for one, has been an eager mentee so far. “He’s awesome," Dunn said of Paxton. "He helped me on day one, just with a little verbal cue that he said so simply to help me stay on top of the ball. He’s got a lot of knowledge, and he’s got some really electric stuff. I’m so I’m excited to watch it and learn from him.”
The bugaboo with the hard-throwing lefty has always been injuries. In his seven big-league seasons he's been on the injured/disabled list at least once in each of them; he has had muscle strains, tendon issues, back trouble, knee problems. Most recently, he underwent back surgery to repair a herniated disc early last year and then hit the IL again near the end of the season with a forearm strain, which he blamed on rushing back into action after the back problem. "It put my arm in a dangerous position," Paxton said, "and that's what I think caused the injury to my flexor, just my mechanics being off and not having my strength back to 100%." Will he stay healthy for the bulk of 2021? Stay tuned. Servais has confidence, at least. "If he looks at all like he did in the offseason when we saw him throw, I’ve got no worries," he said.