Cactus League Game 2: Mariners “at” Padres
James Paxton vs. Andrew Cashner, 12:05
Well, yesterday’s game was fun. Let’s do that same “Robinson Cano plays for Seattle” thing, add the same dash of spring training hype/excitement (“Justin Smoak spent a day with Cano and now he can *hit*!), and add an interesting pitching match-up. Ok, ok, Cano isn’t actually playing today, but he’s still wearing an M’s uniform – a fact that is still moderately shocking to me.
Last year at this time, James Paxton was a darkhorse candidate to make the opening day roster. He was coming off a solid season, and had finished strong after returning from knee surgery. He’d looked pretty good in the Arizona Fall League, throwing 94-95, and without the command lapses that had plagued him previously. So we were all pretty excited to watch his first few Cactus League starts. The Paxton that we saw *then*, one year ago, looked like a non-prospect. Batters had no trouble barreling him up, and his fastball velocity was down to 89-91. He looked like a different, much worse, pitcher, and thus it fell to Brandon Maurer to be the darkhorse candidate who actually grabbed an opening day roster spot.
He was better than that in AAA Tacoma in 2013, though he was still plagued by big innings. He’d look dominant through 4 innings, and then everything would fall apart in the 5th. He had middling results to go with somewhat more encouraging scouting reports, though his failure to get deeper into ballgames meant that the chorus predicting an imminent move to the bullpen grew louder and louder. Something happened, though, in the last month or two in Tacoma. Part of it looks like mechanical tweak, some may be rest and the return of some arm strength, but he was suddenly able to go 7-8 innings and maintain his velocity at 94-95 (or more), not 91-93. Very encouraging. His MLB debut was, if anything, even more encouraging.
I’m looking for velocity, movement (though Peoria’s pitch fx system is notoriously bad for inflated movement readings) and command. He’s only throwing 2 IP, so stamina’s not an issue yet. This season, Paxton’s being counted on as an opening day starting pitcher, so while he’s undoubtedly more confident, there’s a bit more pressure on him than there was last year. I’d love to know that the M’s understood what happened, and that the M’s were behind his late season surge in 2013. Today, more than most days, we could use the psychic balm of hope.
1: Chavez, CF (I’d literally forgotten he’d re-signed)
2: Franklin, SS
3: Kelly, 2B (we’re doing that weird thing where the back-up replaces the starter’s line-up spot in addition to his position, are we?)
4: Hart, DH
5: Montero, 1B
6: Saunders, RF
7: Romero, LF
8: Buck, C
9: Bloomquist, 3B
Ok, that’s…that’s a worse line-up than yesterday’s, and there’s no getting around that. But baseball is still fresh enough that you can find interest in it. Will Romero grab the last bench spot? Can Saunders finally make the leap from bad-to-mediocre-to-actually good?