Tomase: After long rehab, Paxton ready to prove his worth to Red Sox


FORT MYERS, Fla. – At this time last year, James Paxton barely felt like a big leaguer.

His days were filled with rehab, a relatively solitary pursuit. Even as he lockered between Red Sox starters Chris Sale -- himself recovering from a broken rib -- and Nick Pivetta, Paxton could only feel so much like a part of the team.

But that is changing. On Tuesday, manager Alex Cora told reporters that Paxton is "a baseball player now," noting that he's not talking about his elbow, arm, or side. On Wednesday morning, Paxton lit up when apprised of Cora's comments.

"It feels great to hear, because that's what I want to be," Paxton said. "I just want to be a ballplayer again and be back out there competing with my teammates and trying to win ballgames."

Tomase: A Red Sox skeptic shares his glass-half-full scenario for 2023

The Red Sox are betting on an aging trio of starters to carry the rotation, and Paxton has as much upside of any of them. Alongside Sale and right-hander Corey Kluber, Paxton gives the Red Sox the makings of a group that could either turn back the clock or spend half the year on the injured list.

Paxton hasn't thrown a pitch in the big leagues since April 6, 2021, when he retired just four White Sox batters for the Mariners before leaving with forearm pain. He underwent Tommy John surgery three weeks later and hasn't pitched since.

When healthy, the big left-hander is capable of fronting a rotation. In 2019, his last full season, he went 15-6 with a 3.82 ERA in 29 starts with the Yankees. That concluded a three-year stretch between Seattle and New York when he went 38-17 with a 3.54 ERA.

Then came Tommy John and most of two years in baseball purgatory.

"A year ago, I was still rehabbing, not really a part of the group, doing my own thing," he said. "And now I feel like I'm a part of a team again, and doing the same thing as all the other guys, just getting ready to pitch. I'm just building it up, tightening everything up and getting ready to go for day one."

Paxton wanted to pitch last year, but he injured his lat during his first rehab start and was shut down. But he took solace in the fact that his elbow felt strong, which allowed him to start a regular offseason throwing program around Thanksgiving. He said he arrived in Fort Myers feel 100 percent ready to go.

He is scheduled to make his spring debut on Friday, and pitching coach Dave Bush is excited to see Paxton's hard work translate to a mound.

"He's so much better than this point last year," Bush said. "He was still rehabbing and just trying to feel good. And Like Alex said, now we talk about pitching with him and we're not talking about a rehab program or elbow issues or anything else. Treat him like a pitcher like everybody else and that's probably the most refreshing part.

"He comes out every day and does his work like everybody else, and it's totally normal, and now he can just go pitch and compete."

Contact Us