While James Paxton’s season ended in disappointing fashion when the 34-year-old lefthander landed on the injured list with right knee inflammation, he still took plenty of satisfaction from the nearly four months he was able to spend on the mound for the Red Sox.
After injuries limited Paxton to just six starts and 21⅔ innings from 2020-22, the chance to focus on competing rather than rehabbing while making 19 starts and pitching 96 innings this year represented a welcome change. Moreover, his considerable success through his first 16 starts (3.34 ERA, 26 percent strikeout rate, 7 percent walk rate) before the knee injury derailed his last few outings reassured Paxton that he could compete at a high level.
“It was great to get back out there,” he said. “I felt like I was able to show what I was capable of doing again, which was great. Just getting back out there, competing with the guys, getting back out on the baseball field, I’m just grateful to be back at it.
“The whole time, this is what I was thinking about — getting back out there and doing my thing. This is what I love to do. That was the drive, was to get back on the mound and be out there with the ball. That’s what I feel like I was able to do for the most part this year.”
After years of arm injuries, Paxton dealt with right knee discomfort at different points this season. He left a start against the White Sox in late June and wore a brace for the next few weeks before pitching without it starting in mid July.
But in late August, the discomfort left him unable to plant hard on his lead leg, and that affected his mechanics and the sharpness of his arsenal. Over his final three outings, he allowed 17 runs in just 9⅔ innings, with more walks (10) than strikeouts (8), inflating his ERA from 3.34 to 4.50.
“The knee has kind of been bugging me, and I think that it was affecting my mechanics there towards the end,” said Paxton. “When I landed, I couldn’t post on my front leg, and I think I was leaking open, and that was causing me to have to work really hard.
“And then I think it took away some life from my fastball and I wasn’t able to get on top of my breaking ball and be consistent with those. It was affecting just the way that I was able to throw the ball. It just got to the point where I just wasn’t able to be effective out there.”
That said, Paxton is optimistic that he’ll be in position for a healthy 2024.
This season, he said, “tells me that I can still do it at a high level. I’ll get my body right and address the things I need to address and get back to pitching how I was before these past last three starts.
“I think I showed myself what I’m capable of doing, and I’m ready to go out there and do it again after the offseason.”
Paxton said he has enjoyed his time with the Sox. Originally signed to a one-year, $6 million deal in 2022 that included both a two-year, $26 million team option and a one-year, $4 million player option, Paxton exercised his option to return to Boston in 2023. He expressed openness to another return, but he hasn’t discussed the subject with the club.
“We haven’t had those conversations,” said Paxton. “I’ve had a good experience here. I like pitching here, being part of this team, this club. But there haven’t been any conversations about what’s coming after this. It’s kind of a mystery to me as well.
“I really don’t know what to expect. I’m just excited that I’m ready to get back out there and pitch again. I’ll be ready to pitch again next year and take on more of a load than I did this year because I kind of have this base now. I’ll just get myself ready for that, and see where the chips fall.”