James Paxton declared himself good to go whenever the Major League Baseball season resumes.
“I think I’ve thrown probably 12, 14 bullpens,” Paxton, who underwent back surgery Feb. 5, said on the YES Network. “It’s my back feeling really good. My back is a non-issue, I feel totally healthy, so I’ll be ready to go as soon as the season comes about . . . I think I’m back to full strength.”
That falls in line with the initial prognosis given by the Yankees when they announced in early February that Paxton had undergone the procedure, which the club at the time described as “a microscopic lumbar discectomy with removal of a peridiscal cyst.”
The team said then that Paxton, 31, likely would return three to four months from the date of the surgery.
Paxton, who has been rehabbing at his home in Wisconsin during the sport’s shutdown, said he initially felt some nerves when he began throwing bullpen sessions.
“Oh yeah, for sure, I was nervous going into it,” Paxton said. “I was feeling really good playing catch, so that was a really good sign, but it’s always different when you get on the mound. So I was really interested to see how it was going to feel the next day and it turned out feeling really good. I never really had too many issues with the back after I kind of got going. But it’s been getting better and better. The velocity is getting better and better, breaking balls and stuff like that, getting a feel for my pitches, so everything is going really well.”
Paxton, 15-6 with a 3.82 ERA last season, his first in pinstripes, said he has been working during this down time with new pitching coach Matt Blake — via video, of course — on increasing his spin rate.
“I’ve seen some good results there, so I’m continuing to try and improve over this time, even though we’re not playing,” Paxton said. “For me, what I found was how I hold the ball, how I hold my fastball, I'm trying to hold it a little bit differently with less contact on my thumb because I guess that’s supposed to kind of like put some drag on the ball. So I have been trying not to touch my thumb as much to the ball.”
There is concern about the potential of an abundance of injuries when MLB resumes play, with pitchers deemed the most at risk because of the impact a sudden restart in intensity might have on arms, shoulders and elbows. It is something Paxton is aware of, even as he rehabs.
“I'm just trying to continue to progress,” he said. “At some point it will be a bit of a holding pattern because you can only go so far when you’re not facing [hitters] or getting into a live game and facing other teams and getting that adrenaline going. And as far as the amount of throws, I've gotten to the point where I'm throwing a bullpen and then I’ll do like two mock innings. I've had some guys come in and stand in so I can kind of see what a hitter will look like in the box and run through some counts and stuff like that to try and get myself as ready as possible.”
Paxton said he’s kept in regular touch with some of his teammates.
“I've talked to a few,” Paxton said. “I’ve been talking to Gerrit [Cole] a decent amount and Zack Britton and some other guys. Seems like everyone is kind of in the same boat, just trying to stay as ready as possible for whenever something can get going.”
That's an event he’s eagerly anticipating.
“I'm really excited to get back out there, feel the adrenaline, get some competition,” Paxton said. “It will be great once we get going again.”