When healthy, James Paxton pitched like an ace for the Mariners in 2017, posting an ERA under 3.00 for the first time as a full-time member of the big-league rotation. The changes were fueled by an adjustment to his pitch mix, as he nearly stopped throwing his changeup, opting to use his curveball a career-high 21.3 percent of the time. Paxton posted the best swinging-strike rate of his career (12.5 percent), en route to an increased strikeout rate (28.3 percent), while maintaining good walk and home-run rates. There is little reason to doubt Paxton's core skills as elite, but he enters his age-29 campaign without a 200-inning season under his belt as a professional (he reached 171.2 between Tacoma and Seattle in 2016). He lost time last season to forearm and pectoral strains, marking the third straight year he's required a DL stint due to an arm injury. Ideally, he can be drafted as a No. 2 fantasy starter while being paired with a more durable No. 1.
Paxton compiled seven strikeouts while allowing two earned runs on three hits and a walk over 4.2 innings in Wednesday's 5-4 Cactus League win over the Giants. Paxton remains on track to be the Mariners' Opening Day starter if Felix Hernandez (forearm) isn't ready to go, and Wednesday's performance was much more befitting of that role than those of his previous two appearances. The left-hander had been knocked around for 11 earned runs over 4.2 innings in that pair of trips to the mound, so the results he generated against the Giants were an especially welcome sight. Paxton's seven whiffs -- the first three which came in a dominant first inning -- were a spring high, as were his 4.2 frames. He'll look to build on the encouraging effort in a likely turn against the Angels next Monday.
Paxton struck out four and allowed four earned runs on five hits and a walk over three-plus innings in Friday's 10-7 Cactus League loss to the Giants. The final line wasn't pretty, but the southpaw actually considered it progress from his 1.2-inning outing against the Rangers in his last start. According to a report by Greg Johns of MLB.com, Paxton was pleased with both his fastball location and the sharpness of his breaking pitches Friday, which helped him notch his first four strikeouts of the exhibition slate. The improvements he displayed give him reason for optimism that he'll be able to sort the rest of the kinks out before the games start to count. Factoring in Friday's line, the 29-year-old has allowed 11 earned runs on 13 hits and three walks over 6.2 innings across three starts this spring.
Paxton agreed to a one-year, $4.9 million deal with the Mariners on Friday, avoiding arbitration, Ryan Divish of The Seattle Times reports. This was the second year as an arbitration-eligible player for Paxton, as the southpaw received a healthy bump up from $2.35 million last offseason. During the 2017 campaign, he posted a 2.98 ERA and 1.10 WHIP while holding a 156:37 K:BB over 24 starts. He did miss time due to forearm and pectoral injuries, but he should be a sought after target with ace potential heading into this season.
Paxton pitched six scoreless innings with nine strikeouts during Sunday's loss to the Angels. He didn't factor into the decision. The hard-throwing southpaw lobbied to make a final start this season, and he rewarded the Mariners and fantasy owners with a gem. Paxton will finish the campaign with an impressive 2.98 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 10.3 K/9. Injuries remain a concern entering the 2018 season, but there's no denying Paxton's upside when healthy.
Paxton will start Sunday's season finale against the Angels, Bob Dutton of The Tacoma News Tribune reports. The Mariners debated shutting Paxton down for the season after his last start Tuesday, but he wanted to take the ball one more time before the 2017 campaign came to a close, and manager Scott Servais ultimately decided to grant his wish. Paxton has faced the Angels three times this season and is 1-0 with a 2.50 ERA, 15:8 K:BB, and .190 BAA.