James Paxton had his best rehab outing yet on Sunday, tossing 5⅓ scoreless innings for Triple A Worcester and striking out eight while yielding just two hits.
The Red Sox are still determining if Paxton will need another rehab outing. Regardless, the lefthander made it clear Monday that when he does return, he wants to start.
“That’s what I’m comfortable doing,” Paxton said ahead of the Red Sox’ 6-5 walkoff win in the series opener with the Blue Jays at Fenway Park. “I feel like I can contribute best as a starter.”
The majority of Paxton’s appearances throughout his professional career have come as a starter. In fact, prior to his April 19 relief outing for Worcester, Paxton’s last relief appearance was in 2013 as a member of the Mariners’ Triple A affiliate, the Tacoma Rainiers.
Sox starters held a 4.99 ERA heading into Monday, the fifth worst in the majors. If you couple that with the injury to Garrett Whitlock (elbow), Paxton certainly has a strong case. With the exception of Tanner Houck, who has a 4.50 ERA, no Sox starter has an ERA under five.
Paxton has tussled with mechanics during most of his rehab outings, but that appears to be trending in the proper direction.
“It’s getting there,” Paxton said. “Sunday, I made a little tweak to the mechanics but I’m still getting consistent with it. However, it was a lot better, in and around the zone.”
Despite being with the Sox since the start of last season, Paxton has not pitched an inning for the club. He spent the better part of last year recovering from Tommy John surgery, and then a shoulder strain ended any chance at a return to the mound. He’s been on the injured list this year with a hamstring strain. The last time Paxton took the hill was in 2021 with the Mariners, making just one start before hitting the IL and ultimately undergoing surgery.
As Paxton continues to hone his mechanics, he’s talked to teammates who have dealt with the grind of trying to recover from injury after a long layoff, including Chris Sale.
“We’re very different. We don’t really compare notes that way,” Paxton said. “But we definitely talked about how hard it is to to get back after injury.”
In April, Alex Verdugo sharply criticized Toronto’s Alek Manoah during an appearance on the “Baseball Isn’t Boring” podcast, saying the righthander is disrespectful to opponents with his reactions on the mound.
“I’ll say it right now, I think Alek Manoah goes about it the wrong way; 100 percent I think he does,” Verdugo said.
The Red Sox right fielder had a specific problem with Manoah shouting at Bobby Dalbec and Franchy Cordero during a game last season after striking them out.
“It’s not the way it should be played. It should be played like you’re celebrating it with your team, you’re not [expletive] disrespecting another player,” said Verdugo, who went 2 for 5 with two runs and a walkoff solo home run in the ninth inning Monday. “At the end of the day we’re just trying to compete, that’s it.”
Manoah said he was aware of the comments.
“I’ve never talked to Alex,” he said. “That’s all I can say. We’ve never talked and I’ve never had a problem with him.”
Manoah is scheduled to face the Sox on Wednesday. Verdugo is 7 for 16 with two doubles and a home run against him.
Manoah, who finished third in Cy Young Award voting last season, is 1-1 with a 4.88 earned run average in six starts this year. He is 4-0 with a 1.46 ERA in six career starts against the Sox. Manoah has allowed two earned runs over 12 innings in two starts at Fenway.
On a roll
Masataka Yoshida had a double in the first inning on Monday to extend his hit streak to 11, tying the Rangers’ Robbie Grossman for the longest active streak in the majors … Whitlock will get testing done on his elbow Tuesday to see how he has progressed. The Red Sox starter was placed on the IL last week with right elbow neuritis … The Blue Jays’ George Springer was a late scratch Monday with a viral illness.
Staff writer Peter Abraham contributed to this report.