So close to recovery, there's bad news for James Paxton. Yesterday, watching Roenis Elias struggle through an early inning, I took a break from cooking dinner to tweet about it might be Elias that gets bumped from the rotation when Taijuan Walker returns, not Chris Young. Idealistic scenarios floating in my head. "Wouldn't it be nice to bump this sub-4.00 ERA/SIERA/xFIP pitcher for a potential ace? Can't wait for that."
It didn't take long for me to realize that I'd missed some critical news from a half hour ago, and that we might not be seeing James Paxton any time soon. A gut punch for everyone affected.
Paxton has now hit the trifecta on his 2014 injury quest, first experiencing soreness in his triceps after his rehab start recovering from a lat injury, and now an MRI has revealed he'll be shut down for 5-7 days, which isn't good news despite the relatively short estimate. Assuming everything comes back clean within a week, which it rarely seems to, the team will take obvious precautions in his return. Consider how long Taijuan Walker has been out with shoulder concerns of his own, yet to embark on a rehab assignment -- if Paxton experiences any further discomfort, this could keep him out for another significant chunk of time. Even if it doesn't, the whole process could start over, playing catch, simulated games, rehab assignments, and an eventual scheduled return with a whole batch of potential setbacks to worry about yet again. Any time somebody is shut down means the team just hit the reset button. It would be a huge shock if the team just tossed him right back into another rehab start after this break.
It's incredibly disappointing, given how poor Brandon Maurer has been. There was always a small hint of hope every time he started, one that winked that this could be the last time we'd have to witness his classic meltdown inning. Now, the irresponsible hope is back on Walker, who hasn't had the same level of success as Paxton at the MLB level. Paxton's idealistic, fantasy scenario gave the Mariners a potentially killer 1-2-3 punch. Walker's contribution level is murky. Probably better than Maurer, but to what extent?
Walker is scheduled for a rehab assignment of his own tonight, and it will surely be tracked with considerable hand-wringing and nervous refreshing of Twitter pages. Walker is scheduled for 70-75 pitches, and if everything comes out smooth, he may only need one more go-around before he makes the leap. His throwing schedule lines up close enough with Brandon Maurer, so that Walker could theoretically take his place whenever he's deemed ready.
It's fairly remarkable that the Mariners have been able to hang around .500 with all of the things that have gone south so far, but it's more frustrating than inspiring. You can't help but imagine all of the missed opportunities if Brad Miller was himself, the rotation was healthy, Corey Hart worked out, and Abraham Almonte didn't happen. They're still milling around, keeping themselves in the conversation, but you have to wonder if the team will make a move for another arm at some point if Walker experiences a setback of his own. The reason many of us wanted the Mariners to acquire a surplus of starting pitching this winter is this exact scenario -- bad developments are unforeseen in idealistic minds but perpetually exist despite our constant denials. Hope is relentless, but reality stomps us in the face time after time. We rarely learn, but that's the fun of hope.
People always say "it could be nothing." It isn't. Even if this is nothing relative to James Paxton, it's still something. That something could be weeks. It could be months. It could be his year. The extent is unknown, but what is known is that this is a significant, crushing blow to what was expected to be a considerable upgrade in the Mariners rotation.