SEATTLE -- Kyle Lewis began baseball activity for the first time in two weeks on Monday when he hit in the batting cage and began working out in the weight room at T-Mobile Park.
While it’s a promising development for the reigning American League Rookie of the Year, Lewis is still a ways off from the biggest hurdle he’ll need to clear: running. That’s why Mariners manager Scott Servais put a “middle-of-the-month” timeline on Lewis’ recovery from a deep bone bruise in his right knee. And because he’ll need a few days’ worth of simulated at-bats to regain his timing, Lewis is still at least two to three weeks away.
“So far, so good,” Servais said. “He feels good. We just want to be careful and how quick we ramp him up, but he’s moving in the right direction.”
Lewis is on the 10-day injured list and unable to remain with the big league team. However, because the Mariners are the only club that is hosting its alternate training site exclusively at its big league ballpark, he can stay in close contact with the Major League training staff.
Perhaps that’s one benefit in a situation that is mostly a disadvantage for the Mariners because they have no other alternate site opponents in close proximity to conduct exhibitions during the first month of the season. And all alternate site players must leave the venue before the 26-man roster players arrive for each night’s game due to health and safety protocols.
Paxton’s debut to feature epic matchup
After quite a few scheduling quirks limited him to just two spring starts and pushed his regular-season debut back three days, James Paxton will finally makes his much-anticipated return to the T-Mobile Park mound on Tuesday. And he’ll do so in what could be perhaps the best pitching matchup on the MLB docket that evening against Lucas Giolito.
For a Mariners rotation that has already raised eyebrows with strong performances from Yusei Kikuchi and Chris Flexen, Paxton represents the most upside. Squaring off against one of the league’s top righties and a loaded lineup favored to win the American League Central will be a healthy competitive barometer to start, even if Paxton treats it like any other start.
“I'm not pitching against him. I'm pitching against the guys in lineup, and I'm going to do the same thing, no matter what,” Paxton said.
What can the Mariners expect from Big Maple this season? He’s said that his goal would be to set a career innings high of at least 170, which is feasible if he can remain healthy. Therein lies the key for the 32-year-old, who had back surgery and strained his left flexor with the Yankees last year, and who has also been on the IL for elbow, pectoral, latissimus, finger and knee ailments since being drafted in 2010.
The six-man rotation should help address this by creating an extra day’s rest for each starter. For his career, Paxton has a 3.26 ERA and .658 OPS against on five days’ rest and a 3.89 ERA and .697 OPS against on regular rest. And if Paxton can put it all together and stay on the field, the Mariners’ starting staff could be even stronger than most thought entering the spring.
Mariners wowed by Ohtani
Paxton said he didn’t care about opposing-pitching matchups unless that starter is in the lineup, and well, that could be the case at some point with Shohei Ohtani in Seattle’s 19 games against the Angels. Ohtani had the MLB world abuzz after his stellar showing Sunday.
The two-way phenom hit a 450-foot homer in his first at-bat that scorched over the right-field wall with a 115.2 mph exit velocity, and he also dialed it up to 101 mph on the mound. At the time, it represented the hardest-hit ball and hardest-thrown pitch in 2021.
“That guy is something else,” Paxton said. “That was pretty cool to see. I didn't watch the game, but I saw the highlights. …That's pretty cool to be able to pitch a game that he was batting second in the lineup. That's impressive.”
“Not many guys throw 100 and hit 100,” Servais said. “He’s a very talented player, no question. We've seen both sides of it before, but we’ve never seen him do both in one game. But yeah, he's a super, super talented player. … I’ve just never seen anything like it before. It's very, very unique.”
Before undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2018, Ohtani made one start in Seattle, throwing six innings and six strikeouts in an 8-2 win. The Mariners play the Angels for the first time in ’21 on April 30.