It didn’t take long for James Paxton to become fairly well-versed in what he has gotten into after his offseason trade to the Yankees.
“Players talk about it,” he said before his new team opened the season with a 7-2 victory over the Orioles on Thursday at Yankee Stadium.
The “it” is pitching in New York for the Yankees compared with anywhere else.
And the 6-4, 235-pound lefthander isn’t running from what that entails.
“There’s pressure to perform everywhere, but I think the highest pressure is probably being a Yankee at Yankee Stadium,” said Paxton, who will make his Yankees debut Saturday afternoon against Orioles righthander Nate Karns. “Everyone here wants to win: the fans, the players, and it’s expected, just with the history, the tradition of Yankee baseball. It’s exciting. It brings a lot of energy. I think the pressure is going to be fun.”
Paxton, who was born in Ladner, Canada — hence the nickname “The Big Maple” — will get his first official taste of some of that pressure in the second game of the season.
“We’ve got a great team here and we’re all really optimistic about this season and what we can accomplish,” Paxton said. “I'm feeling really good about where I’m at, I feel ready to go. Excited to be a part of the Yankees and to pitch in Yankee Stadium as a home-team player.”
Paxton, acquired from Seattle in November for prospects Justus Sheffield, Erik Swanson and Dom Thompson-Williams, is 41-26 with a 3.42 ERA in 102 career starts.
Very good numbers, yes, except the latter one. It is not a lot of starts for a pitcher who debuted in the big leagues in 2013, and injuries have been the culprit. Since 2014, the first season in which Paxton began the year in the majors, he has made at least one appearance on the disabled list (now called the injured list) each year.
Even in 2018, when he went 11-6 with a 3.76 ERA in 28 starts — one of which resulted in a no-hitter May 8 in Toronto — and set career highs in starts, innings (160 1/3) and strikeouts (208) -- there were two DL stints. Paxton was out July 13-30 with lower back inflammation and out again Aug. 15-Sept. 1 with a left forearm contusion.
“That’s kind of been my thing, is the injury problem,” Paxton said.
To combat that, he made some alterations to his offseason workout regimen and also began working with a nutritionist.
After his final exhibition start last Sunday in Fort Myers against the Twins, Paxton declared it “probably the best spring training I’ve ever had,” citing an uptick in his fastball velocity compared with previous springs, among other reasons.
"I feel like I’m recovering better and getting out of the gates better … Every year I go in trying to find something I can do different to put myself in the best spot possible to stay healthy for an entire season, and I feel like I’ve done that this offseason," he added. "I’m coming into the season feeling great and I look forward to making every start this year.”
And doing so for a franchise trying to win this year as opposed to the one Paxton came from, though he didn’t put it that way.
“It’s really exciting coming to a team that is competing right now, and for that matter is always competing,” Paxton said without criticizing the Mariners, who took him in the fourth round of the 2010 draft. “The Yankees are a great team and we have great guys in this locker room and guys that have an opportunity to win a championship, and that’s what our goal is. That’s what we all talk about and what we want. We want a ring.”