Really, James Paxton is fine. Nothing a little time off won’t fix.
That was the take of the Seattle Mariners and their star pitcher on Friday, one day after Paxton had to leave the first inning of his start against the Angels in Anaheim because of back issues. The team placed Paxton on the 10-day disabled list, citing the coming All-Star break and the need for bullpen reinforcements after having to use five relievers and position player Andrew Romine to finish out Thursday’s game, an 11-2 loss.
“It gives us an extra player in this series,” Mariners manager Scott Servais told reporters before Friday’s game in Denver against the Colorado Rockies. “He wasn’t scheduled to pitch again for 10 days. It makes all the sense the world to do that. Pax felt OK this morning and he doesn’t think it’s going to be something that causes him to miss his next start.”
Paxton is eligible to come off the disabled list on July 24, the Mariners’ fourth game after next week’s break. Servais said he thinks that will be enough time to get Paxton right.
Paxton accompanied the team Denver instead of returning to Seattle, another sign his back injury isn’t too bad.
“I don’t think it’s too serious,” Paxton said Friday. “If it was more serious, I wouldn’t be able to walk or stand here. I think I just need a little bit of rest, a little bit of time, a little bit of TLC and I’ll be ready to go after the break.”
The DL move caused a series of moves to bolster the Mariners roster heading into a three-game series at Coors Field, a place notorious for the toll it takes on pitching staffs.
Promoted from Triple-A Tacoma are three right-handed pitchers: Christian Bergman, who started Friday’s game at Denver, Casey Lawrence and Mike Morin. Reliever Nick Rumbelow and infielder Gordon Beckham were sent down to the Rainiers to clear space.
Rumbelow struggled in the two outings with the Mariners since being promoted from Tacoma on July 10, giving up five runs in three innings. Beckham goes down largely because the Mariners need an extra arm in the bullpen after Thursday’s game.
Paxton faced five batters — surrendering three runs and two home runs — before he was lifted. He appeared to stretch his lower back, then sway side to side to stretch some more before Mariners trainer Matt Toth ran out to attend to him, followed by pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. and Servais.
Paxotn had topped out with a 95.4-mph fastball against Mike Trout, who singled. He threw 17 pitches. The rough outing pushed Paxton’s ERA to 3.70 and he was tagged with the loss, dropping his record to 8-4.
“I was hoping it would loosen up,” Paxton said after the game. “I went into the game hoping the adrenaline would get me through it. But I wasn’t getting extension, there was no life on the ball and they were just floating in there.
“When it’s coming in there and there’s no life on it – for me, it’s not going to go well.”
Paxton said he didn’t get any instructions for what sort of work he’ll need to do to be ready by the end of the All-Star break, but he took some muscle relaxers and said he plans to let it relax and calm down.
“I think this is just a really small thing,” Paxton said. “Nothing that will linger or stay around.”
The Mariners have often said their hope for Paxton this season was that he just stay healthy. He went to some unique lengths this offseason to help ensure that, including going through muscle activation techniques and getting rid of cow milk from his diet (that’s right, no more milkshakes).
He’s previously missed starts for the Mariners because of finger injuries, torn nails, blisters, bruised forearms, a pectoral strain, a forearm strain, a contusion in his left elbow and a strained left latissimus dorsi muscle.
“I haven’t had anything really structural, knock on wood,” Paxton said this spring. “Nothing really serious like in the shoulder or elbow. A minor thing in my forearm but it’s wasn’t UCL. Just very odd injuries and the good thing is none of them have reoccurred. None. I’ve learned how to not have that injury occur again.
“So hopefully I’ve checked off some boxes and don’t have to worry about them anymore.”
Now add lower back stiffness.
But the Mariners were likely just being cautious, especially with his history and the All-Star break coming up.
Paxton has already pitched 119 1/3 innings this season in 19 starts. He had 24 starts and threw 136 innings all of last season and 20 starts and 121 innings in 2016.
Staff writer TJ Cotterill contributed to this report.