James Paxton will be a different pitcher when baseball starts

With his surgically repaired back ready for the rigors of big-league pitching, James Paxton has been tinkering with his grip in order to increase spin rate.

“I think I’ve thrown probably 12-14 bullpens; it’s (back) feeling really good. (My) back is a non-issue, I feel totally healthy, so I’ll be ready to go as soon as the season comes about,” the lefty starter told YES Network in an interview that was released online Friday.

If/when big league hitters face the 31-year old Paxton this year they might detect something new.

“There is a ball we have here (Wisconsin) that tracks spin rate to a degree and I have been working on a few things to increase my spin rate and I’ve seen some good results there,” said Paxton who can become a free agent regardless if a season is played or not. Paxton was expected to miss at least the first month of the season with a back injury before coronavirus postponed the start of the season.

For Paxton, a change in the grip has helped.

“Well, for me, what I found was how I hold the ball, how I hold my fastball, I’m trying to hold it a little bit differently with less contact on my thumb because I guess that’s supposed to kind of like put some drag on the ball,” Paxton said. “So, I have been trying not to touch my thumb as much to the ball. And I’ve been noticing some more spin and back spin when I throw the ball.”

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James Paxton
James PaxtonCharles Wenzelberg/New York Post

As with other changes by a pitcher, Paxton is adjusting to a new grip.

“Yeah, it was a little bit weird. I’ve heard guys say that when you tuck your thumb underneath the fastball, that’s when you get the most spin, but I just have no feel for where the ball’s going when it’s there,” Paxton, 31, said. “So I still kind of have that guiding thing with my thumb, but because I still have my thumb on the ball I have that pad of my thumb off of the ball, so I still experience some increase in spin, which has been fun to see.”

As for the back it’s all about maintaining.

“I have some new routines, that I do, pre-workout, pre-bullpen now, just to make sure that back is nice and loose and activated, ,the muscles are all activated, so there’s a little bit of pre-work that goes into it,” said Paxton, who went 15-6 with a 3.82 ERA in 29 starts last year. “But right now, it’s just kind of maintenance stuff. I think I’m back to full strength. If the season was ready to start tomorrow, or spring training would be ready to start tomorrow, I’d be ready to be just like one of the other guys and do all the regular stuff.”

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