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James Paxton Expects to Return Before Postseason, Got 'Lucky' With Forearm Strain

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NEW YORK — When James Paxton came out for his warmup pitches prior to the fifth inning on Thursday, the left-hander began to feel some discomfort in his left forearm. 

Considering he was working on a no-hitter at the time—one that was broken up just a few batters later—Paxton told himself he could work out the tightness as the inning progressed. As he came off the mound three outs later, however, he knew for certain that something was wrong.

The next day, after being sent for an MRI, Paxton was diagnosed with a Grade 1 strain of his left forearm flexor. While no injury is good news, the left-hander said Saturday that he feels "lucky" considering the ligament in his elbow isn't damaged in any way.

"Considering the circumstances, I got very lucky with the injury I do have," Paxton said. "I was glad it wasn’t anything to do with the UCL. The UCL is good to go, it’s perfectly healthy, so that’s great news. So this should be a short term thing."

Already this year, New York has lost right-handers Luis Severino and Tommy Kahnle to season-ending Tommy John surgery. In both of those cases, surgery was a conclusion drawn from initial signs of forearm discomfort.

Yankees' manager Aaron Boone shared a similar sentiment to his No. 2 starter. This club is fortunate Paxton didn't join those two names on the 60-day injured list.

"You get a little nervous and the ligament was good," Boone said. "Just the relief that the ligament is intact." 

The skipper went on to reveal that Paxton won't pick up a baseball for 14 days. That way the 31-year-old can rest his arm before he begins building it back up to where he can pitch again. 

As for when Paxton expects to return to the rotation, the left-hander was confident that he'll be back on the mound in a Yankees uniform before this summer's shortened campaign comes to an end.

"That’s my goal is to make it back before the end of the season and hopefully get a couple of starts in before the postseason begins," Paxton explained.

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After two shaky starts to begin the season, the left-handed had settled into a groove in August. Over his last three outings, Paxton has posted a 4.96 ERA through 16 1/3 innings pitched, allowing exactly three earned runs in each start. Factor in an 11-strikeout performance against the Rays in Tampa Bay two weekends ago and the southpaw has punched out 21 batters in that span.

There have been concerns regarding a decrease in Paxton's fastball velocity through his first five starts and whether or not the left-hander has been able to build up his arm strength after lower back surgery this offseason. The source of this injury in his forearm, however, is believed to be a result of something else.

"I think it was just the fact of me throwing so many changeups and I’m not used to throwing so many changeups," he explained. "I think it's something where I need to build up that changeup number in-game. I think I’m used to throwing seven or eight. I think I need to throw 12 and then 15 instead of jumping from throwing eight a game to a lot more."

Across 29 starts last year, Paxton threw a grand total of 32 changeups, good for 1.2 percent of the 2,500-plus pitches he threw over the course of the entire season. In five starts this season, Paxton has already thrown 45 changeups, according to Statcast, which equates to 12.6 percent of the time. 

Another factor, Paxton explained, was the length of Spring Training and challenges presented by MLB's coronavirus-induced delay.

"We didn’t get enough time going at a lower speed to build up and now you’re seeing a few weeks into the season guys are not fresh anymore," he said. "The tiredness is building up, we don’t have that base that we normally have."

Paxton is by no means the only key contributor on the Yankees' injured list as the club approaches the halfway point of this summer's campaign. Nine other players are presently on the shelf with injuries as New York waits to resume play following the postponement of this weekend's Subway Series against the Mets. 

Considering only 35 games remain on the Yankees' schedule, there isn't too much time for this hobbled roster to recuperate. Nonetheless, Paxton believes he and his teammates have what it takes to not only make it through the rest of the regular season, but to make some noise in October as well. 

"It is a short window, there’s not a lot of season left," he said. "That being said, there is some time, and I think that I’ll be able to be back before the end of the 35 games and I think a few of our guys will be back before the end of that time and we’ll be ready to compete and take on the postseason."

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For more from Max Goodman, follow him on Twitter @MaxTGoodman. Follow ITP on Twitter @SI_Yankees and Facebook @SIYankees