Paxton pares down pitch repertoire in AFL
SEATTLE -- James Paxton is pitching with a limited repertoire in the Arizona Fall League, thanks to a decision to protect his lingering finger issue, but the Mariners' left-hander has put up good results in his first three starts and continues building up his arm strength for what he hopes is a better 2016.
Paxton is throwing only fastballs and changeups in the AFL to prevent stress on the nail of his middle finger on his pitching hand, a problem that cropped up in the final weeks of the regular season after the 26-year-old returned from a three-month disabled list stint with a strained tendon in that same finger.
But even without his potent curveball and cutter, Paxton has gone 1-1 with a 1.74 ERA in three starts with the Peoria Javelinas, walking three and striking out nine in 10 1/3 innings.
Paxton, who makes his next start Friday, said Mariners executives are being extra cautious so his finger will be 100 percent when Spring Training opens in February.
"It is healing, but I don't want to put too much pressure on the inside of that nail and cause it to pop off again and end my Fall League," Paxton said. "I just want to get through as many innings as I can."
In the process, he's finding out some interesting things about himself.
"I'm working on some really good things," he said. "I'm trying to implement my high fastball a little more. My changeup is taking strides. I'm really happy with the progress I'm making. It's interesting, because I'll get to a count where I think it would be a perfect place for a curve or cutter, but it really forces me to focus on fastball location and my changeup. I think it's really going to help me."
Paxton says he should have about four more AFL starts before that season ends on Nov. 18, then he might make a couple more starts in one of the Winter Leagues before returning to Seattle in December.
"I just want to max out my innings and put myself in the best possible position for next year," he said.
Paxton opened last season as Seattle's No. 2 starter, but went just 3-4 with a 3.90 ERA in 67 innings over 13 starts due to his time on the DL.
In other Winter League news involving Mariners prospects:
• Outfielder Tyler O'Neill will soon be replaced on the Peoria roster by outfielder Dario Pizzano so he can play for Team Canada in the Premier 12 Tournament from Nov. 8-21, but O'Neill isn't done yet in Arizona. The young slugger went 3-for-4 with a home run in Wednesday's 2-0 victory over Salt River and is hitting .333 (9-for-27) with three homers and three doubles in seven games. The 20-year-old hit .260 with 32 homers in 106 games last season for Class A Bakersfield. Pizzano hit .308 in 58 games for Double-A Jackson before being sidelined by a sprained ligament in his hand.
• Shortstop Tyler Smith is hitting .345 (10-for-29) in eight games for Peoria, while first baseman D.J. Peterson has batted .260 (7-for-25) with two homers and seven RBIs in seven games.
• Lefty reliever David Rollins, last year's Rule 5 Draft pick, threw his third straight scoreless inning in Wednesday's win for Peoria. After a rough outing in his AFL debut, he's lowered his ERA to 3.60 in four appearances by allowing just two hits with no walks and three strikeouts in his last three games.
• Southpaw Vidal Nuno has been outstanding in his first two Venezuelan Winter League starts for Tigres de Aragua, going 2-0 while allowing just one unearned run in 12 innings. Nuno has given up six hits with three walks and nine strikeouts.
• James Jones has hit .283 (13-for-46) with two doubles and a triple in 13 games while playing center field and leading off for the Tigres, while fellow outfielder Stefen Romero is batting .200 (3-for-15) in four games.
• Right-hander Stephen Landazuri, who split last year between Jackson and Triple-A Tacoma, is 2-1 with a 3.94 ERA in three starts for Aguilas de Mexicali in the Mexican Winter League.