(Photo Credit: REUTERS/NICK TURCHIARO)
Watching James Paxton get the final ground ball out of his no-hitter on Tuesday night could not have been more beautifully scripted. Paxton, a Canadian-born pitcher, stands at a towering 6'4" on the mound. It's no surprise it garnered him the nickname "Big Maple."
Not only did he throw the first away game no-hitter in Mariners history, but he got to do it in Canada, on his home turf, against the Blue Jays. Even a stadium full of Jays fans couldn't help but cheer as he was carried off the field. Drenched in Gatorade and joy, pointing triumphantly at his maple leaf tattoo on his forearm.
It was a night of other firsts for Paxton as well. At 29 years old, this was the first time he'd thrown a complete game shutout and needed a solid 99 pitches to get the win.
Made of the good stuff
Paxton has always had the goods. It always seemed odd to me how easily he's often overlooked as a dominant ace on that Mariners staff, and maybe part of that had to do with the team basking in the glow of "King" Felix Hernandez for so long.
Paxton has a four-seam fastball that hits 95 miles per hour and, in fact, throughout his no-hitter, his velocity continued to climb as he went deeper into the game. In his last three starts this season, he's only given up two earned runs over 22 innings pitched. In his previous start against Oakland, he struck out 16 batters and only gave up five hits. Looking back, this was probably just a little foreshadowing of what was next.
According to FanGraphs, Paxton was making far more use of his high fastball to get those swings and misses in his Oakland start, so it comes as no surprise that again in his game against the Jays, he generated a lot of the same swings and misses with that fastball up in the zone. It will be interesting to see if going forward he continues to use that high fastball along with his curveball and cutter to keep generating those strikeouts.
These numbers shouldn't come as a surprise either. Last season, he started 24 games for the Mariners and finished the year with a 12-5 record and a 2.98 ERA. He threw 136 innings overall and struck out 156 hitters while posting a 3.9 WAR.
Where's the love for this maple?
it seems like Paxton is often overlooked compared to the other power pitchers in the game we always hear about on TV, on the radio, or in the news like Max Scherzer, Noah Syndergaard, Clayton Kershaw, the list goes on. Paxton may not always bring the fire like these guys but much like the tree he's named for, he's sturdy and reliable. He's not about flash. He didn't need to throw a thousand fastballs at those Blue Jay hitters all night. Instead, he played it smart. He used his curveball and cutter to get those outs late in the game, and could still bring the heat if he needed it.
I'll take a guy like Paxton in my rotation any day. The strong silent type, who you know will go out there and get the job done.