Last season, the Yankees caught the injury bug early and never quite got over it. Key players went down in spring training, and others continued to get sidelined throughout the year. This season the team hoped to get off on a different foot, but the familiar cloud hanging over the team’s health reappeared when it was announced that James Paxton underwent surgery to remove a cyst in his back in the beginning of February.
Paxton’s recovery time was estimated to be around three to four months, putting him in line for a June debut. Losing Paxton for that length of time would be difficult to maneuver around in spite of the rotation getting stronger by signing Gerrit Cole, but it is an even bigger blow since there is uncertainty about Luis Severino’s availability now as well. The uncomfortable feeling of waiting for the next injury domino to fall that never left the club last year seemed to be returning for another go, but a positive update has broken through.
Yankees manager Aaron Boone told the YES broadcast in a game interview during the team’s spring training opener that they “feel really good about where [Paxton] is.” The left-hander has progressed well through the first stage of his recovery, and Boone added that the team expects him to start throwing somewhere between seven to ten days from now. Boone is hopeful that the “nagging issues” that Paxton dealt with during last season will go away now that Paxton has gone through the surgery, and that he can go full throttle in his rehab.
This is a critical component of Paxton’s case. While being sidelined for a couple months to start the season isn’t the most ideal situation, if the medical staff has found a solution to the discomfort he pitched through last year then the trade off will probably be worth it. Paxton pitched with a brace on his knee in 2019 to lessen the torque in the area after experiencing inflammation earlier in the year, and had to make several slight adjustments to how he delivered his pitches from the mound. Alleviating the pain in his back could go a long way to reducing the concerns Paxton has for the rest of his delivery.
Paxton’s early return to throwing could translate into an earlier return to the majors as well. Boone went on to have a radio interview with Suzyn Waldman and John Sterling, where he said that “there is a really good chance that he’ll be ready sometime in May.” It would be a massive development for the Yankees if they can get one of their top pitchers back up to a month earlier than originally projected, especially considering the part of the schedule that Paxton would miss.
Not getting a spring training to prepare for the season would likely cause Paxton to have some rust, but if you have to miss time spring is probably the best case scenario. Then in April, when the games begin to count, the Yankees only play two teams that made the playoffs last year — the AL wild card teams in Tampa Bay and Oakland. The schedule ramps up significantly in May, but there are several spots between significant series where Paxton could get going.
The Yankees are projected to be one of the strongest teams in the league, and handily win the AL East for the second year in a row. This is true even with the injury concerns they’ve already dealt with in the opening days of spring training. An earlier return for a key member of the rotation like Paxton can only help the team position itself towards their true goal — success in the postseason.