Yankees' James Paxton Feels Healthy, Back to 'Normal' After First Sim Game of Summer Camp

Max Goodman

Before Sunday afternoon, James Paxton hadn't toed the rubber at Yankee Stadium since he led the Yankees to victory in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series against the Astros last October. 

The stakes were just a bit lower during New York's second official workout of Summer Camp as Paxton twirled a simulated game. Considering the left-hander's path back to the mound from lower back surgery in February, however, Sunday's outing was still a big moment for the Big Maple. 

New York's southpaw was dealing, striking out the side in his first inning of work. He mowed down his teammates Miguel Andújar, Tyler Wade and Gary Sánchez in order, each via the swing and miss. 

"He looked good," skipper Aaron Boone said after Paxton's outing. "He looked fairly sharp. I think it was clearly a stepping stone for him getting back out there and getting in a little bit of competition against some hitters."

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Paxton underwent microscopic lumbar discectomy with removal of a peridiscal cyst just days before hurlers reported to the Bombers' Spring Training facility in Tampa. At that point in time, the 31-year-old was expected to miss three-to-four months. Courtesy of MLB's coronavirus-induced hiatus, Paxton is back to "normal" without missing a single game. 

"It felt good to get back on a dirt mound. I've been throwing on a turf mound in running shoes for the last little while," Paxton said. "Getting back on the dirt with the guys and facing some of our hitters, it was great. I felt good, felt healthy, it was a good first step."

Shortly after Paxton's outing, the lanky lefty said he had no problems whatsoever when it comes to his back. Paxton singled out a new routine he's been using since surgery to increase his flexibility while making sure his body is loose and his core is "activated and fired up" as a catalyst for his progress.  

"I've got like a little bit of a new routine, you know, new stretches and stuff just to make sure everything warm and ready to go," he explained. "Everything else was normal. Throwing was normal. And I had no problem with the back, everything felt really good." 

Just a few days ago at Yankees Summer Camp, as Boone discussed the likelihood New York will start the regular season with a five-man rotation, the manager said Paxton was going to be "one of the most built up" hurlers coming into camp. 

After Masahiro Tanaka was struck with a comebacker on Saturday and diagnosed with a mild concussion the following afternoon, Paxton's presence in New York's rotation is even more important early on in a 60-game sprint. 

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While this summer's campaign will feature games without fans, Paxton is focusing on the positives of the unprecedented circumstances ahead rather than the adjustment's challenges. 

"I think that we're all used to having that buzz of fans in the stadium and the energy and everything, but I think it's gonna be a unique experience," Paxton said. "It's gonna be a little nostalgic being able to hear all the baseball sounds we used to hear when we were kids."

Whether Yankee Stadium is filled to the brim – as it was in his last outing of the 2019 season in October – or if the venue is completely silent as he stands on the rubber in a few weeks, Paxton understands his job doesn't change. He still needs to get hitters out and intends to do so. 

"For me out there, I've got a job to do, and I'm focused on what I'm trying to accomplish and that's 60 feet six inches away," he said. "I'm doing the same thing every pitch and giving it everything I have and that's not gonna change."

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