PEORIA, Ariz. - Two years after Toronto drafted him and nine months after Seattle made him its fourth-round pick, James Paxton signed a professional contract on Friday.
“I think it finally came down to his desire to play,” general manager Jack Zduriencik said.
Paxton, a 22-year-old who said he is 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, had pitched only for the independent league Grand Prairie Air Hogs over the last two years – making four starts and going 1-2 with a 4.08 earned-run average.
“I learned a lot about business the last few years, but the Mariners kept working with my representatives and we got it done,” Paxton said. “Suiting up (today) is going to be awesome.”
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Yes, Paxton will jump right into the middle of spring training, although Zduriencik said the team will be cautious with a man who hasn’t faced much live hitting in months.
Born in Ladner, a suburb of Vancouver, B.C., Paxton said the Mariners were his favorite team as a young man, although Yankees lefty Andy Pettitte was his favorite pitcher.
Asked if he knew any current Mariners, Paxton shook his head.
“I’ve seen them play, and I’ve played against Justin Smoak, but that’s it,” he said.
It’s been a long, tough stretch for Paxton, who turned down the Blue Jays in 2009 only to find himself ineligible to pitch again for the University of Kentucky because agent Scott Boras had represented him.
He pitched for the Air Hogs before the 2010 draft, when Seattle took him with their fourth-round pick.
“I’ve been working out, throwing my bullpens.” Paxton said. “We’ll see what happens, but I will compete. I’m ready to pitch.”
Zduriencik said it’s likely Paxton will spend enough time in the Mariners’ big-league camp to be seen by manager Eric Wedge and pitching coach Carl Willis, but inevitably he will be sent to minor league camp and assigned a team.
“We saw him pitch in Kentucky, saw him pitch in the independent league, and we had him in the mid-90s with a good fastball and slider,” Zduriencik said. “As I’ve said all along in this job, it’s all about adding talent. We added a quality left-handed pitcher to the fold today.”
Jason Vargas, Denny Bautista and Mauricio Robles threw in a simulated game against minor leaguers Friday, the first time Vargas had faced live hitting all spring.
“It’s a good approach, so far,” Vargas said of the Mariners’ cautious plan of attack with him. “I didn’t have a say. Because of the increase in innings last year, they’re being careful.”
Vargas, a 28-year-old lefty, threw a career-high 1922/3 innings last year. This spring, he’s working on a new pitch.
“My goal was to come up with a breaking pitch I could get ahead in the count with,” Vargas said. “I threw in a curve today a few times for a first-pitch strike. Now I think it’s a bullpen session and an exhibition game. I’m done on the back fields.”
Doug Fister’s second spring start looked much like his first – he allowed two runs in three innings of Friday’s 3-1 loss to Cincinnati after giving up two in two innings in his previous start.
“It’s focus, it’s location and that’s the key to my strength as a pitcher,” Fister said. “It’s a matter of fine-tuning and repetition. I got a lot of ground balls, and that’s what I want to do.”
Wedge said Fister was “a little hit-and-miss today,” but that it wasn’t unusual to see that early in spring games.
“Fister’s intense and has an air of maturity out there,” Wedge said. “He channels that intensity, and that’s going to help him.”
With the signing of Paxton, the Mariners have 64 players in camp with no immediate plans to make cuts. Minor-league camp opens for pitchers and catchers Monday. ... The Mariners’ offensive output Friday of five hits included four singles and a Jack Cust double. Their one run? Back-to-back hits from Dustin Ackley and Adam Moore and an Ichiro Suzuki sacrifice fly. ... Knuckleball specialist Charlie Haeger, trying to make the team as a reliever and spot starter, hasn’t appeared in a spring game because back stiffness has him unable to throw and it has put him behind most of his competition. ... Monique Bradley filed divorce papers against husband Milton Bradley on Feb. 23 in Los Angeles, alleging physical abuse. Neither Bradley nor the Mariners had a comment Friday. ... Left-hander Aaron Laffey worked his first inning as a Mariner, allowed one hit and hit a batter but did not give up a run. ... Josh Lueke, Chris Smith and Rule 5 pitcher Jose Flores all pitched a scoreless inning against Cincinnati. ... Wedge on Seattle’s offense, now batting .256: “You see a lot of young at-bats. Are they trying to push too hard, are they being too passive? We’re sitting back and evaluating.” ... Against six Reds pitchers, the Mariners didn’t walk once.
Seattle hosts Cleveland in a 12:05 p.m. PDT game that will be broadcast on 710-AM. Probable starting pitchers: Jeanmar Gomez vs. Erik Bedard.