Red Sox left-hander James Paxton has been diagnosed with a Grade 1 hamstring strain, manager Alex Cora told reporters (including MLB.com’s Ian Browne) on Saturday.
Paxton strained his right hamstring in the second inning of Friday’s 9-4 Grapefruit League win over the Twins in Fort Myers. The 34-year-old was scheduled to pitch two innings but had to come out of the game with a trainer after recording the first two outs of the second.
“It’s a strain. Not as bad, but probably similar to [Connor] Wong,” Cora said. “We’ll know how he’s reacting. If we need imaging, we’ll do it. But right now, we don’t feel that way.”
When speaking with reporters outside the Red Sox clubhouse on Friday, Paxton said he began feeling discomfort in his hamstring on his second-to-last pitch to Michael A. Taylor. He retired the outfielder with his next offering, but could be seen grabbing at and stretching out his right hamstring in an attempt to get loose.
At that point, Paxton received a visit on the mound from Cora and a member of the team’s training staff. The decision was then made that the lefty’s day would be over right then and there.
“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,” said Paxton. “I wanted to step on it a little bit and the hamstring just grabbed.”
Before departing, Paxton proved to be effective against the Twins on Friday. He struck out Carlos Correa as part of a 1-2-3 first inning and then got the first two outs of the second. Twelve of the 19 pitches he threw went for strikes and he topped out at 94.7 mph with his four-seam fastball, per Baseball Savant.
As part of Saturday’s announcement, Cora revealed that Paxton will be shut down temporarily, which puts his status for Opening Day into question. If he falls behind in his progressions enough, Paxton could very well start the season on the injured list for the second year in a row.
“Obviously, he’s going to fall behind a little bit here,” Cora said. “It doesn’t look that bad. It sucks because he worked so hard to get to this point. We’ll be patient, just like he will be and he’ll be ready whenever he’s ready.”
Paxton originally signed a one-year, $6 million contract with Boston in December 2021 that came with a two-year club option and a one-year player option. At that time, the southpaw was about eight months removed from having undergone Tommy John surgery while still a member of the Mariners.
After his rehab from the procedure was initially delayed by posterior elbow soreness last May, Paxton was able to began a rehab assignment in the Florida Complex League in August. Just two batters into his start for the FCL Red Sox, though, Paxton suffered a Grade 2 lat tear, which ended his 2022 season before it really even started.
In November, the Red Sox declined Paxton’s two-year, $26 million club option that would have covered the 2023 and 2024 seasons. Paxton, in turn, elected to remain in Boston by exercising his $4 million player option for the 2023 campaign.
“I’m comfortable here,” Paxton told MassLive.com’s Christopher Smith last month. “They know me. I know them. And I’m trying to establish myself back in the big-leagues and I felt like this was the place for me to do it.”
Dating back to the start of the COVID-shortened 2020 season, Paxton has been limited to just six starts spanning 21 1/3 innings. For his major-league career, which spans nine seasons, he has only surpassed the 150-inning plateau twice (2018, 2019) due to different injuries, most of which have been arm-related.
The Red Sox came into camp with seven starters (Paxton, Chris Sale, Nick Pivetta, Corey Kluber, Brayan Bello, Garrett Whitlock, and Tanner Houck), competing for five rotation spots. Since workouts began though, Paxton has gone down with a hamstring injury, Bello was slowed by right forearm tightness, and Whitlock has yet to fully ramp up after undergoing hip surgery last September.
Since Boston is expected to exercise caution with all of its starters in camp, it’s certainly possible all three of Bello, Paxton, and Whitlock start the season on the 15-day injured list. If that is indeed the case, the Red Sox do have rotation depth to turn to in right-handers Kutter Crawford and Josh Winckowski. Beyond those two, prospects with starting experience in the minor-leagues — such as Bryan Mata, Chris Murphy, and Brandon Walter — are on the 40-man roster as well.
(Picture of James Paxton: Brace Hemmelgarn/Getty Images)