PEORIA, Ariz. - Usually the area around the "six-pack" - the large bullpen featuring six mounds, where pitchers do their daily throwing work - is far from crowded.
Pitchers throwing to catchers in bullpen sessions doesn’t exactly draw a crowd.
But it was different on Friday.
Several Seattle Mariners executives – including general manager Jack Zduriencik and president Chuck Armstrong – manager Eric Wedge, a handful of coaches and a full contingent of media were on hand to watch recently signed fourth-round draft pick James Paxton throw for the first time in a Mariners uniform.
Even Paxton’s fellow pitchers stuck around to watch the talented left-hander out of British Columbia make his “debut” in Peoria.
“I kind of figured there would be some guys watching the ‘new guy’ and see how he throws,” Paxton said afterward. “It’s all part of it. You can’t hide from it. It’s all there. You have to accept it and go out there and do what you do.”
Paxton threw 30 pitches, showing good velocity on his fastball and good movement on his breaking ball. He struggled to spot his change-up, which bounced in the dirt several times.
“It was very impressive,” Mariners pitching coach Carl Willis said. “We saw the arm work very well and saw some ability with his fastball. It’s a very heavy fastball. Saw some good rotation on his breaking ball. Obviously, he needs more time on the mound to find his release point with his secondary pitches.”
After one of Paxton’s bounced change-ups, bullpen catcher/coach Jason Phillips tried to lighten the mood and calm the youngster down, yelling out: “Relax kid, it’s not like anybody’s watching you.”
It seemed to work.
“That was funny,” said Paxton, who finished up throwing good, strong fastballs in the bottom of the strike zone.
Zduriencik was pleased with the first showing.
“Nice, very nice,” he said. “Big body, good arm, good curveball.”
After throwing two bullpen sessions a week in California for four weeks, Paxton hadn’t thrown one in about 12 days while the signing process was being taken care of. So he, too, was pleased with his first outing.
“I thought my arm worked really well for not throwing a bullpen for two weeks,” he said. “I spotted up the fastball a little bit. I’m still trying to find the release point on my breaking pitches and change-up.”
Paxton’s path to Peoria was far from a straight one.
He originally was drafted by Toronto in 2009 with 37th overall pick after his junior year at the University of Kentucky. But he and his advisor, Scott Boras, couldn’t reach a deal with the Blue Jays.
He went back to Kentucky and likely would have been one of the top pitchers in college baseball. However, there was a dispute with the NCAA about how much of a role Boras played in the negotiations, and Paxton was ruled ineligible.
In an attempt to stay sharp, Paxton pitched in an independent baseball league in Texas for the Grand Prairie AirHogs last spring.
Now the plan is for him to throw one more bullpen session, and Willis said he will likely determine a plan for Paxton.
“Physically, he seems fine,” Willis said. “He seems ready to go. We’ll be cautious, but at the same time we won’t hold him back.”
JAPAN TRAGEDY HITS CLOSE TO HOME
Ichiro stared at the TV for a long time. Normally focused from the moment he steps into the clubhouse, the Mariners’ right fielder broke from his daily ritual to watch live coverage of the earthquake/tsunami destruction in home country of Japan.
But he chose to not comment about the devastation after multiple media requests. His interpreter, Antony Suzuki, said Ichiro declined to talk because he simply doesn’t know enough.
Ichiro told Suzuki that he has not been able to get contact his family in Japan yet.
Suzuki said his wife, Yumiko, was in Japan, but he had spoken with her and she is fine.
The Mariners also have several ties to Japan including Director of Minor League and International Administration Hide Sueyoshi and athletic trainer Taka Morimoto, along with the handful of Japanese media that cover the team in Peoria.
Mariners CEO Howard Lincoln released this statement on behalf of the team.
“The Mariners would like to join with people from around the world in extending our sympathy to the many families affected by the devastating earthquake and tsunami centered in Sendai. ”
Michael Pineda gave up his first runs of the spring, allowing two runs, including a homer, in three innings against the Cleveland Indians at Goodyear, Ariz. Facing mostly a major league lineup, Pineda gave up four hits and a walk. ... Former Mariners Jack Hannahan and Asdrubal Cabrera drove in the runs off of Pineda. ... Outfielder Johermyn Chavez was hit by pitches three times. ... Dustin Ackley made his third start at second base. He had an RBI single, drew two walks and stole a base.
Ryan Divish: 253-597-8483 firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners