By Evan Seguirant
Special to 710Sports.com
Four impressive outings to begin his major-league career at the end of the 2013 season and a strong start to spring training this year have led to high hopes for Mariners pitcher James Paxton. With injuries to fellow starters Taijuan Walker and Hisashi Iwakuma, the Mariners are counting on Paxton to deliver upon his potential right away.
Injuries in the Mariners' rotation could bump rookie James Paxton up to the No. 2 spot to begin the season. (AP)
"It really helped me build my confidence. Going up there and having that success showed me that I can compete at that level and that I belong there. It really helped me coming into camp, feeling like I belong in the big leagues," Paxton said.
Bill Krueger, a ROOT baseball analyst and former MLB pitcher, agrees that Paxton is ready.
"First of all, he's left-handed, and that's always a good thing that makes you a more valuable pitcher," Krueger told "Bob and Groz" earlier this seek. "No. 2, he's got a great arm. This is a guy who throws easily in the mid-90s. The third thing I like about him is that he's got a great demeanor on the mound, he doesn't rattle ... he seems to be a guy who needed the competition level to rise for him to bring his game up."
Paxton was initially competing for a spot in the back of the rotation, but that could change. Walker has recently resumed throwing after missing time with shoulder inflammation and Iwakuma injured a tendon in the middle finger of his throwing hand. It's possible that neither will be be ready for the beginning of the season, which could bump Paxton into the No. 2 spot behind Felix Hernandez.
Paxton realizes that expectations are high this year. When asked about his strategy for his third spring start, Paxton said: "To progress with my stuff and get my pitches going. Last time out I threw some more curveballs and the changeup was feeling good and it's just a matter of getting that fastball command where I want it, working my pitches on both sides of the zone."
Paxton struggled with his control for most of the 2013 season as a member with Triple-A Tacoma, walking 3.58 batters per nine innings (the major-league average is 3.3 BB/9) with an ERA of 4.45. In his four starts with the Mariners, he cut his BB/9 to 2.6 and his ERA lowered to 1.50.
Krueger said that Paxton's fastball command will be the key to his success this season.
"I love the way he goes about his business," Krueger said. "The idea that you come with your fastball first and you pitch on both sides of the plate with your fastball and you keep your other pitches in your back pocket for when you really need them. And that's the kind of style that's going to allow him to pitch deeper in games. He's going to get better defense played behind him, and that's the winning formula."