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James Paxton is back with a vengeance

The big lefty returned to the Yankees’ rotation Wednesday, and his stuff was as good as ever.

Yankees starting pitcher James Paxton suffered an MCL injury on May 3rd, but the southpaw is nearing a return to action. Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

He knew he’d only have about 80 pitches to work with. Unfortunately, James Paxton probably didn’t go as deep into his first start back as he would have wanted, because he struck out seven Padres in his four innings, and was pulled before the fifth at 66 pitches. Paxton is back, and how, as he dominated San Diego in his first taste of MLB action since returning from the injured list.

On Tuesday I wrote about how CC Sabathia had struggled to get “on top” of the baseball, and it was leading to fastballs leaking out over the plate, prime eating for any hitter. Privately, this was one concern I’d had for Paxton’s start - it’s rare for a pitcher to have his previous velocity and his previous command in returning from injury.

This is what Paxton did to right-handed Padres; absolutely burying fastballs in on their hands. He was even more judicious to lefties:

Paxton got 12 swinging strikes on his four-seamer, a 26% whiff rate more than double his season pace on the same pitch. His secondary pitches were no slouches either, and he tortured more than a couple San Diego hitters, not the least of which was poor Wil Myers:

The overlay and tails show just how unhittable Paxton’s stuff can be. He buries 94 in on your hands, and then throws a pitch that looks identical and dives a good six inches down once you’ve decided to swing.

For Big Maple to come back from the injured list with his command AND his velocity in good shape is the best injury news the Yankees have had in a while. While the team has found suitable injury replacements on the position side - we’ve all fallen in love with Gio Urshela among others - the state of the starting rotation has turned into Domingo German and a whole bunch of shruggy emojis.

I thought headed into the season that Paxton was probably the most important pitcher in the Yankee rotation, even if Luis Severino is probably a little better in terms of true talent. Having a “second ace” is such a rare thing in baseball, and that’s what Paxton represents. He’s the Gerrit Cole following Justin Verlander, the Patrick Corbin after Max Scherzer. For a deep playoff run, the Yankees need someone like James Paxton getting the ball in a game two.

More than that, the Yankees needed a stabilizing influence in the rotation. J.A. Happ looks lost, Domingo German is on an innings limit, and who knows when Severino is coming back. The Yankees have already had to turn to an opener multiple times this year, and while it’s worked out so far, it also exposes the team to overworking the bullpen, and we’ve seen scenarios where Aaron Boone is forced to leave relievers in too long, or go to a weaker reliever, because everyone else is either gassed or needed tomorrow.

Paxton is that stabilizer, and the shot in the proverbial arm the team needed. He looked great yesterday afternoon, and we know that can continue. He was the team’s most important starter on Opening Day, and he’s that again. Best of luck to the rest of baseball against nonsense like this: