The Mariners played the Twins on Tuesday and cruised to a 12-3 victory. Possibly overlooked in the offensive onslaught, however, is that the team's ace was back on the mound and secured his second-straight victory since returing from the DL. And no, I'm not talking about the aging Felix Hernandez, who has been out of action since late April with a shoulder injury. I'm talking about southpaw James Paxton.
Paxton isn't a household name, but that may change very soon. Overlooked to a large degree, he actually broke out last season while no one was paying attention, posting a 3.79 ERA in 20 starts, including an August in which he posted a 2.73 ERA. What's more is that this ERA overshadowed his incredible underlying numbers. Paxton posted a 2.80 FIP, which was the fourth-best mark in the league, sandwiched between that of Jose Fernandez and Stephen Strasburg.
And just for good measure, he's also the only guy in the last three years to have struck out Mike Trout (read: Baseball God) four times in a game.
Through three starts to begin the season, Paxton didn't allow a run. Since then, his ERA this season has ballooned to 1.69. It seems that his success is here to stay and that's because he has a skill possessed by only a few pitchers around the league: the ability to strike batters out using pinpoint control rather than just pure filth. When you go digging for the numbers behind the magic, you will find that his percentage of swinging strikes at the plate trails only that of Chris Sale, Danny Salazar, Max Scherzer, Jacob deGrom and Zack Greinke this season. He also has the fifth-highest first strike percentage in the Majors, one spot ahead of Clayton Kershaw.
Basically, he gets ahead in the count very quickly and then gets batters to swing through pitches with regularity.
Oh, and he has nasty stuff, too: a 96-mph fastball, with a knuckle curveball and a cutter, excellent secondary pitches. Let's see him in action.
Here's that fastball making a bunch of Tigers batters look silly.
The biggest knock on the 28-year old is that he can't seem to stay healthy. This season, he spent over a month on the DL thanks to a forearm strain and he was limited to only 121 innings last season despite his dominant stuff. If he can stay on the mound, the Mariners may have it in them to make one last push for the playoffs, with Paxton leading the charge.
Still not convinced about this guy? Just ask Pat Valaika. Fresh off the DL five days ago, Paxton struck out the Rockies infielder on a pitch that bounced on its way to the plate.
Good luck, AL West.
Joe Sparacio is an associate producer for Sports on Earth. Follow him on Twitter @joetsparacio.