By Nick Patterson Herald Writer
EVERETT — The Northwest League is a place for baseball prospects who are still a long way away from the majors. But tonight Everett Memorial Stadium will be graced by the presence of one who’s on the brink of a big-time breakthrough.
Pitcher James Paxton, one of the brightest prospects in the Seattle Mariners’ system, takes the mound in Everett tonight as he makes a rehabilitation start with the AquaSox.
“I’m looking forward to seeing James come back,” Everett manager Dave Valle said. “I’m excited for him because it’s been a tough road for him to get back healthy again.”
Paxton, a 25-year-old left-hander from Richmond, B.C., was Seattle’s consensus No. 3 prospect before the 2014 season began. Last season, he received a September call-up by the Mariners and was dynamite in four starts (3-0 record, 1.50 earned run average, 21 strikeouts and just seven walks in 24 innings of work). Then he earned a spot in the Mariners starting rotation during spring training and won his first two starts this season, walking two and striking out 13 in 12 innings.
But Paxton suffered a strained latissimus dorsi muscle on the left side of his back during his April 8 start against the Los Angeles Angels, putting him on the shelf for six weeks. He was working his way back to the rotation in late May when he suffered a setback following a rehab start with Class AAA Tacoma when stiffness in his left triceps forced the Mariners to shut him down again.
Now, Paxton is back on track. He threw a 53-pitch simulated game Saturday in Seattle and reported no complications in the aftermath. Tonight’s start in Everett is the next step in returning to the Mariners.
“The plan is for him to go three innings (tonight) and hopefully he’ll come out, put some good work in, and get ready to get back to the big leagues,” Valle said.
“We’re just looking for him to come out of it with no problems,” Valle added. “He’s coming off that injury and (the Mariners) want to make sure he’s building up his stamina and pitch count.”
If everything goes well with Paxton’s start tonight, he’ll move on to Tacoma to complete his rehabilitation.
Valle also is hoping Paxton’s presence rubs off on the Sox, who have struggled to a 9-24 record with just five games remaining in the first half of the Northwest League season.
“The nice thing about it is these young guys are going to get to see a big leaguer pitch first-hand,” Valle said. “They get to watch his preparation, the way he gets ready for a baseball game. Hopefully they can come away with something.”