James Paxton was scheduled to pitch two innings in his first start of the spring for the Red Sox against the Twins on Friday afternoon. The left-hander unfortunately fell short of that goal due to a right hamstring injury.
After recording the first two outs of the second inning at Hammond Stadium, Paxton could be seen grabbing at and stretching out his right hamstring in an attempt to loosen it up. That prompted a visit from Red Sox manager Alex Cora and a member of the team’s training staff.
Paxton, who to that point had retired all five batters he faced while recording one strikeout over 1 2/3 scoreless innings of work, then left the field with a trainer and was pulled from the game in favor of fellow lefty Rio Gomez.
“We’ll know tomorrow,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora told reporters (including MLB.com’s Ian Browne) following Boston’s 9-4 win over Minnesota. “Obviously, not perfect. Hopefully it was just a cramp. I think obviously with him, we’ve got to be very careful. It’s a shame because he was throwing the [heck] out of the ball today. His location was great, velo was up. … And that happened. Hopefully it’s nothing and we can just continue to move on.”
Paxton himself said he first felt discomfort on his second-to-last pitch to Michael A. Taylor with one out in the second. He got the center fielder to fly out to left with his next offering, but was unable to continue after that despite only needing to get one more out.
“My hamstring just grabbed on me a little bit just as I was kind of starting to find that firing pin to let the ball go a little bit harder,” Paxton said. “I wanted to step on it a little bit and the hamstring just grabbed. We’ll see what we got. We don’t really know yet. But we’ll see how I come in feeling tomorrow and go from there.”
Of the 19 pitches Paxton threw on Friday, 12 went for strikes. He punched out Twins shortstop Carlos Correa as part of a 1-2-3 first inning and needed nine pitches to get the first two outs of the second. According to Baseball Savant, the 34-year-old southpaw topped out at 94.7 mph with his four-seam fastball.
“I think there’s positives and negatives,” Paxton said of his shortened outing. “I think that going out there and filling up the zone like I did felt good. Some good breaking balls, fastball felt pretty good. I felt like it was coming out of the hand well. But then this happens and now we’re gonna have to deal with this so that I can continue moving forward. I’ll do whatever I have to do to get back out there.”
Paxton has been with the Red Sox since signing with the club as a free agent in December 2021. At that time, the veteran hurler was about eight months removed from undergoing Tommy John surgery after making one start for the Mariners that season. He spent most of the 2022 campaign rehabbing before suffering a Grade 2 left lat tear in his first rehab outing in late August.
Given his recent injury history, Paxton elected to exercise his $4 million player option for 2023 and return to the Red Sox without any sort of limitations this spring. Even if this latest setback proves to be minor, Boston will undoubtedly exercise caution when it comes to Paxton’s health moving forward.
Paxton is one of seven candidates vying for five spots in the Red Sox’ Opening Day starting rotation alongside the likes of Chris Sale, Nick Pivetta, Corey Kluber, Brayan Bello, Garrett Whitlock, and Tanner Houck. As noted by MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo, though, Bello, Whitlock, and now Paxton have all been slowed by different issues this spring, which could put someone like Kutter Crawford into the rotation mix early this season.
Paxton said that he is unsure if he strained his hamstring or simply experienced a cramp. Regardless, he is disappointed and frustrated by what transpired on Friday.
“This is not how I wanted this to go,” said Paxton. “I wanted to go through spring training clean. But I can’t control that. All I can control is going to work on this now and doing whatever I can to get back out there and pitch again.”
(Picture of James Paxton: Brace Hemmelgarn/Getty Images)