PEORIA, Ariz. — There are no limits this year on oft-injured lefty James Paxton in terms of starts or innings. Instead, Seattle Mariners manager Scott Servais chooses to speak through a prism of viable expectations.
“I’d like to say he could go out there and take 30 starts,” Servais said, “but he hasn’t done it. I think you have to be realistic. If you think he’s going to run out there and throw 200 innings, make every start…it’s hard to count on that.”
Injuries limited Paxton to a combined 141 big-league innings over the last two seasons. Add another 19 2/3 minor-league rehab innings in that span and another 29 1/3 last year in the Arizona Fall League.
That’s still only 190 total innings in two years.
Paxton contends he’s healthy and ready to take his turn every fifth game.
“It’s largely going to be up to the staff for what they want to let me do,” he said. “But I feel strong. I feel really good. I’m ready to go as deep as they’re going to let me.”
Servais is open to the possibility of Paxton making 30-plus starts — assuming Paxton wins a spot in the rotation. That’s no given; he is expected to battle right-hander Nathan Karns for the final spot.
“Would I love to see it? Yes,” Servais said. “You’ve got to monitor that as the season goes along. To sit down with (Paxton) now and say, ‘Here’s the (innings) plan…’ You do that on the minor-league side.
“But at the big leagues, it’s about today’s win. Today’s win is important. It’s a much different animal than dealing with this stuff in the minor leagues.”
The industry standard suggests a pitcher’s workload shouldn’t exceed 30 innings from the previous season. That would peg Paxton at around 140 innings for the upcoming season.
But Servais points to two factors in explaining why the Mariners are open to permitting Paxton to exceed that threshold.
“He’s not coming off Tommy John (elbow reconstruction),” Servais said. “He’s not a shoulder repair. It was a finger issue. He just hasn’t pitched much. We have to be very in-tuned to what his stuff is looking like and how his body is working.
“Do you have to skip him a start? That’s where (your organizational depth) come in. You do things like that to make it work.
“And it’s his 27-year-old season. It’s time for James to pitch.”
No limits on Walker
A year ago, the Mariners shut down right-hander Taijuan Walker in mid-September because a rising innings count. This year, Walker faces no such limitations.
“I hope we’re using Taijuan Walker in October,” Servais said. “If we get to that point, that’s a good thing. Adrenaline kicks in, he’s 23 years old, and you go with it. He should be fine.”
Walker pitched 169 2/3 innings last season over 29 starts.
Here’s some good news from the folks at MLBTradeRumors.com, who have developed a program that seeks to identify the leading candidates to undergo Tommy John surgery at some point in the upcoming season.
Only one Mariner ranks in the Top 100 candidates — Walker at No. 90 with a 2 percent chance.
There were 112 ulnar collateral ligament injuries in 2015 that required Tommy John surgery.
The rest of the camp roster — i.e., the infielders and outfielders — is scheduled to report Wednesday for physical examinations. Most are already in camp and taking part in voluntary workouts. The first full-squad workout is Thursday. … Veteran reliever Joaquin Benoit appears to have worked through whatever back soreness limited him over the weekend. … Lefty reliever Paul Fry, a non-roster invite, threw his first bullpen workout. He missed the previous cycle because of an illness. … Lefty starter Brad Mills, another non-roster invite, is battling shoulder tendinitis. … The Mariners started their second cycle of bullpen workouts Tuesday. It is the last cycle before Friday’s shift to live batting practice.