James Paxton’s Debut

After finding out yesterday that left-hander James Paxton would be making his professional debut last night, there was no way I wasn’t going to tune in and do some analysis on the start.  I know that Paxton is someone Mariners fans have been waiting and waiting to get more information on ever since he was drafted.  Since I love my readers, I’m going to give you just that.

First, it needs to be noted that the Clinton radio feed was really rough last night.  There were stretches where there was more time listening to dead air than play-by-play, so there’s some details that are hazy, particularly Paxton’s exact pitch mix.  Still, there was pretty good information from the game, so let’s roll with it.

Paxton started out throwing almost entirely fastballs, staying around the strike zone and barely using his curveball.  I think he threw maybe one or two in the first inning, and maybe another four in the second.  As a result, he got hit around a little bit until he settled in and started using the curve more, including three hard hits in the first and a homer in the third.

Once Paxton started getting more comfortable with the curve, he mixed it in a lot more.  LumberKings announcer Dave Lezotte sounded impressed with the pitch, and Paxton was managing to both get it over the plate for strikes and get swings and misses with it.  Normally described as more of a power curve a la Erik Bedard, it sounded like it was working more like Felix Hernandez’s knee-locking death curve, in that it had a tight spin with a late dropout.

The curve was a very effective weapon for Paxton once he started using it more, and it should come as no surprise that five of six of his strikeouts came after the second inning, as it was after the homer in the third that he really let himself have faith in the curve and use it.  Curiously, I heard no mentions of Paxton’s changeup; I’ve heard reports that it could be a good pitch, and despite the quality of the fastball and curve, he’ll need the changeup against right-handed batters in the long run.

Since we were reliant on verbal reports of velocity from Lezotte, we don’t really have a complete picture of how fast Paxton’s pitches were.  From what we did get, it seemed like Paxton’s fastball was sitting around 92-93, and the curve was coming in at about 80-81.  Both pitches have been faster in the past; one would assume his velocity should start to come back as he rebuilds his arm strength.

Overall, it was a good first start for Paxton.  His final line was 6 innings, 3 runs (one earned), five hits, six strikeouts, four walks, and the homer.  There’s definitely rust to shake off, but considering that this is his first pro appearance, it wasn’t a bad debut at all.  The walks are a bit concerning, but those can probably be attributed to rust as much as anything. UPDATE: The error that caused the two runs given up on the home run to be unearned was removed today by the official scorer.  All three of Paxton’s runs are now earned.

Paxton looks as though he could have a bright future ahead of him.  This was a good first step on his journey to reach it.  Hopefully there are many more steps yet to come.

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