NEW YORK — Instead of mentally preparing to face his former Seattle Mariners teammates and thinking about firing a few high-90s fastballs toward them on Wednesday night, James Paxton spent his Tuesday afternoon rehabbing his left knee.
The big lefty was disappointed he didn’t get to face the team that drafted and developed him before trading him this offseason. Instead, he’s on the injured list with left knee inflammation. He’s already hoping he’ll get the chance when the New York Yankees visit T-Mobile Park in August.
“I was looking forward to it,” he said. “It was really weird to be sitting in the dugout last night and seeing (Mitch) Haniger step up to the plate for the first guy. I was thinking, ‘Man, this is weird going against the Mariners for the first time.’ I was looking forward to facing those guys. It would have been a lot of fun.”
Even more fitting, that start would have come on the anniversary of the no-hitter he threw against the Toronto Blue Jays last season.
When asked about it, he talked more about the play of his teammates like Mike Zunino, Dee Gordon, Kyle Seager and Ryon Healy in the no-hitter rather than his own pitching.
“Heck of a memory,” he said. “The thing I remember most were the plays made behind me and how good of a job Zunino did behind the plate. There was Dee’s play in center, Kyle’s play at third in the seventh — that one stands out big time — and Healy’s picks at first that he was making. All kinds of things came together. It was really a team effort that day. It was a really special moment with those guys.”
Many of those teammates that shared that special moment with Paxton were also traded in the offseason — only nine players on the Mariners’ current 25-man roster played with him last season with Seager and Wade LeBlanc on the disabled list.
“There’s a lot of new people,” he said. “There’s maybe like four or five guys that I probably knew well. Even the pitching staff, the starters are close to all the same, but the bullpen is basically all new. It’s amazing how much turnover there has been.”
Paxton still stays in contact with two of those guys he knows well on a regular basis, sharing a text messaging group with Marco Gonzales and LeBlanc.
“We can kind of keep up with each other and how we are doing,” Paxton said. “It’s too bad to see Wade go down with the oblique injury. Hopefully, it doesn’t keep him out too long. It’s been a lot of fun to watch Marco go do his thing. He’s been throwing the ball great. I’m really happy for him.”
As for Paxton’s own injury, he was optimistic that his time on the IL would be limited to just 10 days.
“It’s not a big deal,” he said. “Everything structurally is good. They didn’t want me to compensate too much and hurt my arm in the process. I don’t think it will be a long stint for me on the IL. I’m feeling really good already after a couple days of treatment. I think I will be able to throw in a couple of days and get back at it.”
Paxton’s appearance is strikingly different. He’s without facial hair. Paxton had kept a beard or mustache for the better part of eight years with the Mariners, but Yankees players aren’t allowed to grow beards.
“Maybe the closest to being clean shaven was when I had the mustache,” he said. “When I first met my wife eight years ago, I was clean shaven and since then I’ve had a beard. When I went back to being clean shaven, she was pretty shocked.”
The facial hair isn’t the only adjustment. Life in New York is pretty different from Seattle. He has an apartment in lower Manhattan with his wife, Katie, and their new puppy, Duke. He chose to live in the city to experience the lifestyle instead of living in the suburbs.
“I think it’s just getting around the city because I don’t drive,” Paxton said. “My car stays at the stadium. I take the subway, or taxi or Uber. I think that’s been the biggest difference.”
Paxton takes the subway to the park most days but has been recognized only a few times.
“Here and there,” he said. “CC (Sabathia) said that taking the subway won’t last very long. But I figured I will do it while I can. It’s the fastest way to get around New York.”