NEW YORK — Last season, New York Yankees right-hander Luis Severino credited things such as getting tips from Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez as a reason why everything came together after a difficult experience in 2016.
This year, Seattle Mariners left-hander James Paxton is joining Severino among the elite pitchers in the American League, and he credits improved conditioning to go along with an aggressive mindset in attacking hitters.
Paxton and Severino will oppose each other Thursday afternoon at Yankee Stadium when the Mariners and Yankees conclude their three-game series.
The Yankees are in position to get the sweep after rallying from five runs down and recording a 7-5 win on Wednesday on Giancarlo Stantons two-run homer in the ninth inning off Ryan Cook. The Yankees are 16-4 in their last 20 games and are going for their first home sweep of Seattle since May 23-25, 2008.
Seattle is on its second three-game losing streak after blowing its first five-run lead this season. Despite their worst collapse of the season, the Mariners are 13-6 in their last 19 games and 32-17 in their last 49 games.
Paxton heads into his first career start against the Yankees with a 6-1 record and a 3.44 ERA. After going 18-15 in his first 50 starts since making his debut in 2013, Paxton is 18-7 in his last 39, a stretch that includes a 99-pitch no-hitter last month in Toronto and six of his eight career double-digit strikeout games.
Last season, Paxton was 12-5 with a 2.98 ERA but only made 24 starts due to two stints on the disabled list with a strained left forearm and a strained left pectoral muscle. After five DL stints within the first five years of his career, Paxton refined his conditioning with a program to keep everything working. He described the program in detail while referring to the muscle activation technique.
“You need everything to be firing together at the right time and have all your muscles working together in order for them to be optimal strength and stamina,” Paxton said. “So, thats what I did this offseason and I continue to work with those guys during the season to allow myself to stay healthy.”
Paxton enters his 90th career start with 115 strikeouts this year, 39 away from his total last season and sixth in the American League.
Paxton said the strikeouts are coming more often because of aggressiveness — resulting in numbers such as a .216 opposing batting average with runners on base, a .194 average with runners in scoring position and a .178 mark when getting ahead of a hitter 0-1.
“I think Ive gotten more aggressive in the zone and stuff,” he said. Im not picking around the corners as much. I tried to be a little too perfect I think in the past, got myself in bad counts, allowing guys to cheat on fastballs. I think when I get ahead of guys, it gives me more options, makes them think about more pitches I can throw and gets them off my stuff a little bit.”
Since the no-hitter on May 8 in Toronto, Paxton is 4-0 with a 3.48 ERA in his last seven starts, a number inflated due to his last start.
Paxton is coming off his shortest start of the season when he allowed five earned runs on six hits in 2 1/3 innings Friday against the Boston Red Sox in an eventual 7-6 win.
“Hes matured a ton,” Seattle manager Scott Servais said. “He knows how important he is for our team and how important it is for him to stay healthy.
“Hes changed a lot of his offseason workouts, his work in between starts, understanding to be able to take the ball every fifth day means so much to our team. Hes really put a priority on that, probably more so than actual pitch sequencing or pitch development.”
As for Severino, he can join Clevelands Corey Kluber as the second 11-game winner in the majors with a victory Thursday.
He is 10-2 with a 2.09 ERA after allowing three hits in eight scoreless innings in Saturdays 4-1 win over the Tampa Bay Rays. It was the fourth time he pitched into the eighth inning and fourth scoreless start.
“Obviously anytime he goes, I feel great about it,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “Hes a great pitcher. Hes clearly establishing himself as one of the best in the game.”
Severino was 14-6 with a 2.98 ERA last season after Martinez suggested some mechanical tweaks and encouraged him to include his changeup more frequently. Martinezs advice took place after Severino finished 3-8 with a 5.83 ERA in 22 appearances in a 2016 campaign that featured a triceps injury and a demotion to the minors.
It has resulted in Severino being able to maintain velocity throughout games, such as Saturday when 23 of his 102 pitches were clocked at 99 mph or higher.
“Ive played with him all the way through the minor leagues,” Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge said. “This is what I expect out of Sevy. Go out there and just dominate.”
The right-hander is 1-0 with a 2.84 ERA in two career starts against Seattle. He pitched seven scoreless innings in a 4-1 win at Seattle on July 20, 2017, and allowed four runs in 5 2/3 innings in a 7-1 home loss on April 15, 2016.