James Paxton Walking Briskly Toward His Return From Surgery

Max Goodman

TAMPA, Fla. – Some of the Yankees' most prominent members of the pitching staff took fielding practice for the first time on Thursday afternoon.

On the back fields of New York's Spring Training facility, Gerrit Cole and J.A. Happ long tossed, reminiscent of their days as teammates in Pittsburgh. Masahiro Tanaka and integral relievers took ground balls off the mound. Aroldis Chapman showcased his pickoff move, firing missiles over to first base.

One member of the pitching rotation was missing from that group, however, although he wasn't far away.

Looking past the group of hurlers surrounding the mound or running sprints on the grass, James Paxton can be seen walking around the warning track – he repeated laps over and over again for the duration of the workout.

It's been a little over one week since the left-hander underwent surgery in his lower back to remove a cyst – a complication that Paxton recalled was causing sciatic pain down his left leg.

READ: Paxton to miss three-to-four months after lower back surgery

"Started feeling it in September and then felt it through the postseason and into the offseason," Paxton said in front of his locker earlier in the morning. "We tried to do things to remedy it and figure out exactly what it was. I did [physical therapy] all offseason. It would get better and then get worse and then get better. We finally figured out what was going on and had it removed."

The lanky left-hander explained that the pain was at its peak in the first month after the postseason. A long logistical process, traveling to different doctors and receiving several different injections, concluded in January.

"I wish I could have had it done in October," Paxton said. "We just didn’t know exactly what was happening then. But I think that id rather have it happen now than mid season and miss a full three months of the season. This way hopefully I'll only miss a month or so."

For someone that recently learned he'd be sidelined for the next three-plus months and unable to participate in Spring Training as he typically would, Paxton was relatively cheery. He remained focused, briskly walking on the outskirts of George M. Steinbrenner Field, smiling and waving to those he knew. 

When it comes to his recovery, Paxton said he's feeling good slowly testing out his movability each day.

"Moving around, doing some mobility stuff, bumping up walking time, walking around and doing things," he explained when asked about his prescribed treatment. "Today we did some more balance stuff. So just slowly bringing it along."

In 2019, Paxton was one of the Yankees' best starting pitchers. In a career-high 29 games started, the Big Maple led New York's rotation with 186 strikeouts and 3.82 ERA. Late in the summer, Paxton rattled off ten consecutive victories, the longest stretch of wins in a row for a pitcher in pinstripes since Ron Guidry in 1979.

As for his return, the club announced after his surgery last week that the lefty could rejoin the rotation in May at the earliest. Paxton, however, is focused on a benchmark sooner than that and taking it day by day.

"I'm gong to do everything I can," he said. "I know the doctors said 4-6 weeks to start throwing. It’ll make a difference if I start throwing at four versus six weeks because that’s an extra two weeks that I can build up. So we'll just have to see how it goes."

Finally, on whether or not Yankees' fans will be seeing Paxton's mustache moving forward and when he returns to the mound, the southpaw said it remains to be seen.

"I just shaved off my beard and left this so we'll see," he said. "It's here for now."

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