James Paxton placed on 15-day disabled list with lat strain

Otto Greule Jr

What had been assumed before is now official: the Mariners have announced that lefty James Paxton is headed to the 15-day disabled list with a left latissimus dorsi muscle strain. Paxton, who left last night's game against the Angels in the sixth inning, will be eligible to return Friday, April 24th.

It's a shame for Paxton, who'd looked exceptional through his first two starts, and even better when you look at his full track record at the major league level.

Not that we're in love with ERA around these parts, but it does help put things in perspective, at times—times when Jeff Evans and the Mariners excellent PR department provide noteworthy stats. Here's a couple:

LHP James Paxton improved to 5-0 with a 1.75 ERA (7 ER, 36.0 IP) in the first 6 starts of his Major League career (debuted 9/7/13 vs. TB)…it is the lowest ERA by a Mariners pitcher through the first 6 career starts (no relief appearances) in club history, bettering the 1.84 ERA by Felix Hernandez in 2005…he is the first starting pitcher in club history to open a career with a 5-game winning streak, and the first MLB starter to open a career 5-0 or better since Oakland’s A.J. Griffin (6-0) in 2012.

Then, of course, there's this:

In Jeff's next tweet, he mentioned he'd be crossing his fingers because Paxton "might be one of the better starters in the AL." No one's attempting to state any facts here, as the "might" alludes to, but I'm right there with him.

Paxton's projections—by both models and people—are based in large part on his minor league history, one that had people comparing him to five-and-dive extraordinaire Erik Bedard. And while that wouldn't be the worst comp in the world, should Paxton avoid major injury issues, he's a different animal now. He adjusted his delivery and release point midway through last season, and the results have made clear that the change has taken.

Losing him is certainly a blow to a rotation that's already missing two other starters. But, there's some good news to this, and it's that the MRI results are in—and James Paxton did not tear the muscle. That had been the initial fear, as Stephen Pryor, who missed nearly of 2013, was initially diagnosed with a strained lat before it was revealed to be a tear.

Still, given the team's immediate history with an injury of this nature, I'd expect the organization to be extremely cautious with regards to Paxton. I'd be surprised if he's ready to go just two weeks from now. However, Paxton did say last night that he didn't expect this to be a big deal, and the MRI revealed it wasn't. Maybe it's just a slight tweak and he needs to give it a couple week's time. We'll see.

So, who's next?

Lloyd McClendon said before the MRI results came in that, if Paxton were unable to make his next start, it'd be Chris Young on the mound Sunday—and I'd expect that to be the case. Though, as a couple off days have meant that Young's first start's been delayed significantly, the Mariners are still down another starter.

The Rainiers have bumped Blake Beavan up a day, starting tonight instead of tomorrow, surely as a result of this injury. And if the Mariners are still without a fifth starter by the end of next week, I'd guess it would be him taking the bump.

But, for everyone about to ring the "See that's why you need more depth!" alarm, that may not be the case. Taijuan Walker is also scheduled to start tonight, for double-A Jackson, and he's in line to throw 85 pitches. Now, there's no certainty he'll skip over Tacoma and come straight to Seattle, but tonight's a big start—and if dazzles there, capably throwing all of his pitches, I'd assume there's a chance we'll get a look at Walker next Friday in Miami week in Texas or Miami.

The Mariners have said recently that they'd like to keep Walker in a warmer climate, and Miami and Dallas are a lot warmer than Tacoma.

On the back-end of this, the Mariners have recalled lefty reliever Lucas Luetge. So, yeah—that happened and he'll be the third southpaw coming out of the pen.

To wrap this up, I'll say that—while the Mariners have been extremely fortunate to have not suffered a significant injury—you have to wonder where they'd be sitting at the end of April  had their rotation been healthy throughout. The offense has shown it can perform much more capably than in year's past, and if they'd had Walker and Iwakuma ready to go, and Paxton avoided this DL stint, they might be able to put some distance between themselves and at least one or two of the teams they're battling for a playoff spot.

But, so far, pitching hasn't been a problem. We'll see if that continues, both with that Chris Young start Sunday and Roenis Elias going tonight. Hopefully they'll be fine, and we'll see that they knew they had depth all along—but until we get a look, it's impossible to know for sure.

***

Update

James Paxton is speaking with the media now. Here's some of what he's saying.

Also very relevant:

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