“Mirror, mirror on the wall” isn’t just the start of an oft-misquoted line from a fairy tale. (Quick, can you recall which one? Ask your kids or, hey, just go with me on this for a minute.)
The point is this: Any ordinary wall mirror also serves as the key checkpoint in continuing journey by Mariners left-hander James Paxton from tempting potential to reliable performer.
Paxton believes his success stems from “getting that front-side glove to the right position so I can come through in the right spot. Everything syncs up when I get to that spot.”
So he practices in front of a mirror.
“I did it quite a bit when I was working out at Safeco (Field) all offseason,” Paxton said. “I’d mix it in. A few times a week, I’d do 50 mock throws. Well, not throws. I wasn’t going through my delivery. Just getting my glove to that spot.”
The goal was to create muscle memory to the point that when the glove wasn’t in the right position, he’d be able to quickly feel the mistake and correct it. It also serves as a monitoring key for pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr.
“I can feel it myself, or Mel can tell me,” Paxton said, “that I’m getting too high or two low. I’ve got a position that I get to. In the offseason, I was doing mirror drills to make sure I was getting to the same spot every time.”
Paxton tweaked his delivery early last season at Triple-A Tacoma in conjunction with Rainiers pitching coach Lance Painter. One simple adjustment provided an immediate 4-5 mph boost in velocity. Soon, he was in the upper 90s.
“He thought my arm slot was too high,” Paxton recalled. “So we tried to bring it down. It was one of those things that just clicked. It was frustrating that it was something like that, such a small thing, that I feel I should have noticed myself.”
It wasn’t just velocity, either.
The new slot added bite to Paxton’s slider, which metrics showed to be one of the best in the game. He also set a high last season in his seven-year pro career by throwing 171 2/3 innings between the Mariners and Tacoma.
“He believes he’s a major-league winning pitcher instead of just a major-league pitcher,” manager Scott Servais said. “There’s a difference. He expects to go out there every night and go deep in the game to win the ballgame for us.”
Paxton bypassed a chance this spring to pitch for Canada in the World Baseball Classic because: “I want to take another jump in innings this year, a significant one, and I want to save those innings for the Mariners.”
Plans call for Paxton to work 25 innings this spring, including three or four Tuesday against the White Sox at Peoria Stadium. He struck out five of 10 hitters over three strong innings in his previous start against the Chicago Cubs.
“I like where he’s at in terms of mentally and his confidence level,” Servais said. “What he was able to accomplish last year, he’s looking to build on it. I haven’t seen anything to this point that tells me he can’t.”
The key, it seems, is Paxton getting his glove in the right position.
“Just making sure I’m getting it in the same place every time,” he said. “Just having that consistency. It’s great to have drills that I can do. I know what I need to do to lock myself in.”
The misquoted fairy tale line is from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and occurs when the Evil Queen looks in the mirror and actually inquires: “Magic mirror on the wall…”
For Paxton, it might be exactly that.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners