Status Update on Yankees' James Paxton, Rehab From Lower Back Surgery

Max Goodman

One day before Spring Training was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic, James Paxton threw for the first time since his lower back surgery the month before. 

Now, according to Yankees' pitching coach Matt Blake, we have more of an understanding regarding his rehabilitation process during this extended offseason.

"James is doing really well, actually," Blake told reporters, including Brendan Kuty of NJ.com, on a conference call Wednesday.

The southpaw went under the knife for a microscopic lumbar discectomy to remove a peridiscal cyst on February 5. At the time, he was expected to miss three-plus months, returning to Major League action in May at the earliest. 

That meant New York would be without a top of the rotation caliber hurler to flank ace Gerrit Cole for the entirety of Spring Training and the first few flips of the calendar during the regular season.

Similar to the silver lining for Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and even Aaron Hicks, the novel coronavirus pandemic – and subsequent postponement of Opening Day for at least eight weeks – has opened the door for Paxton to be ready when the regular season begins.

READ: Could Toronto's decision to ban city-led events lead to no baseball until July?

As for what Paxton has been up to during these weeks of self quarantine, Blake revealed the left-hander is home in Wisconsin in the throws of his rehabilitation process. His throwing program, however, is unique considering the southpaw's injury wasn't in his arm.

“Typically, in those early phases of the return-to-throw program, there’s a lot of just trying to feel your way through it,” Blake explained to reporters. “Obviously, this wasn’t an arm injury. It was a back surgery. But kind of carrying along with how he was moving in the weight room and getting proactive in his recovery timeline. The throwing program is looking similar to that. The ball was coming out with good life to it and the delivery looked like it was in a good spot."

The 31-year-old hurler had arguably the best season of his seven-year career in 2019 – his first campaign in pinstripes. Paxton won a career-high 15 games, leading the Yankees rotation in ERA (3.82) and strikeouts (186). Paxton's presence in the pitching staff, after the loss of Luis Severino to Tommy John surgery for the duration of this season, is critical to this rotation's success – that is, if there is a season to play. 

In the doomsday scenario where the entire 2020 regular season is canceled, players like Paxton – who are entering the final year of their contracts – will get full service time. Therefore, it's possible that Paxton could be up for free agency in November even if New York doesn't play a game this year.

Regardless of the coronavirus-induced hiatus, Blake and the Yankees' coaching staff evidently feel optimistic about the left-hander's recovery process. When baseball resumes, it seems Paxton is on track to be ready to go.

"Overall, we feel really good about his progression so far,” Blake said.

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

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