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Can James Paxton deliver again? The Dodgers are counting on it.

Mike DiGiovanna, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Baseball

PHOENIX — His check-engine light was illuminated, and his gas gauge was nearing empty, but James Paxton had little choice but to ignore those warning signs as July turned to August last summer.

The Boston Red Sox were 56-50 and 2 1/2 games out of an American League wild-card spot when they opted to keep Paxton beyond the Aug. 1 trade deadline, a decision that came crashing down on both the team and the 35-year-old left-hander over the next five weeks.

Paxton, in his first full season since undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2021, did not make it to the finish line.

After going 6-2 with a 3.34 ERA in his first 13 starts, including a dominant June in which he went 3-0 with a 1.74 ERA in five games to earn AL pitcher of the month honors, Paxton went 1-3 with a 7.62 ERA in six starts from Aug. 4 to Sept. 1 and sat out the final month of the season because of an inflamed right knee.

The Red Sox crumbled in similar fashion, going 22-34 over the final two months of the season to finish 78-84 and 11 games out of playoff contention.

"It had been like 2 1/2 years since I pitched [meaningful] innings in the big leagues, and I felt like I kind of reached a point where my body was just a little burned out," said Paxton, who signed a one-year, $7 million deal with the Dodgers in late January. "I didn't have much left in the tank."

 

The Dodgers think the 6-foot-4, 212-pound Paxton, a Vancouver-area native who is nicknamed "The Big Maple," has enough left in the tank to provide stability and a veteran presence to the back of a rebuilt rotation that appears strong and deep enough to make a World Series run.

"The upside is massive," assistant pitching coach Connor McGuiness said. "I think it's no secret that he's got a little bit of injury history … but when he's out there and healthy and doing his thing, I mean, he's got some of the best stuff in baseball, especially when he's running his fastball up to 96-97 miles per hour."

Paxton missed the first six weeks of 2023 because of a right hamstring strain and the final month because of his knee issue, injuries that prompted the Dodgers to reduce the guaranteed amount of his contract from an originally agreed upon $11 million to $7 million with $4 million in incentives if he makes 18 starts.

Yet for a bulk of the time between those injuries, Paxton appeared to regain the form and fastball that helped him go 15-6 with a 3.82 ERA in 29 starts for the New York Yankees in 2019, his last full injury-free season.

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