Boston Red Sox starting pitcher James Paxton has turned back the clock in his first major league season in two years.
The talented, yet oft-injured left-hander looked like his old self in Wednesday’s narrow 5-4 loss to the Cincinnati Reds at Fenway Park. He continuously pumped pitches by Reds hitters, generating an eye-popping 22 swings and misses over his five innings of work in which he allowed only one run on four hits to go along with eight strikeouts and one walk.
Paxton topped out at 97.9 mph and sat around there for the majority of his outing as his velocity has come as a surprise to Red Sox manager Alex Cora.
“I think last year when he was close to go, we felt like the stuff was going to be good,” Cora told reporters, as seen on NESN postgame coverage. “I do believe velocity-wise, even to him it’s a little bit (of a) surprise. But the way he goes about his outings you see the stuff getting better and better. And this is what he used to do when he was in Seattle. So, it’s good to see him compete at this level, the way he’s doing it and he’ll be ready for next week.”
Paxton’s stuff, especially the zip on his fastball, is playing out better than he could have imagined, too.
“I really didn’t know what to expect,” Paxton told reporters, as seen on NESN postgame coverage. “Coming back through the minor leagues, I think I was topping out at 96, 97. But it’s just not the same atmosphere as pitching in the big leagues. I’m just going out there and letting it rip and it’s feeling good coming out.”
But it wasn’t just the fastball that Paxton used to keep Cincinnati’s hitters at bay — the Reds had an especially difficult time catching up to the heater when Paxton climbed the zone. Paxton was also encouraged by his off-speed pitches, giving him the necessary mix to thwart a Reds’ attack that likes to make a ton of contact.
“I felt the breaking balls took some steps forward. I was throwing some first-pitch breaking balls for strikes like I wanted to,” Paxton said. “Just getting better.”
Here are more notes from Wednesday’s Red Sox-Reds game:
— The Red Sox came into the contest tied for the second-most throwing errors in the big leagues with 20 and that number grew by one thanks to an error by Rafael Devers to start the top of the seventh. The defensive miscue proved costly as the Reds went on to score three runs in the frame to take the lead for good.
“It’s tough,” Cora said. “It’s a routine play that we have to make at this level. I always say, if you give the opposition more than 27 outs, most of the time they’re going to score. They’re going to make you pay. Obviously, that play we have to make. We didn’t and it opened the gates for them.”
— After recording his 500th RBI of his career in the series opener, Devers hit another minor milestone Wednesday. He notched the 200th double of his career in the loss. At 26 years and 219 days old, Devers became the 14th player in major league history to have 200 doubles and 150 homers by that age, according to Red Sox senior manager of media relations and baseball information J.P. Long.
— Enmanuel Valdez had only one hit in his last six games, but delivered a home run to the opposite field in the bottom of the fifth inning. He said he showed up at Fenway Park early to try to end his slump.
“It feels good to be able to help the team,” Valdez told reporters through a translator as seen on NESN postgame coverage. “Obviously, the past few series haven’t gone my way. So, I came early today to work with the hitting coaches and luckily it paid off.”
— Boston is now 0-8 against National League Central teams at Fenway Park this season.
— The Red Sox finished the month of May with a .500 record at 13-13. They closed the month with three straight losses coming by a combined four runs.
— The Red Sox and Reds close out their three-game series on Thursday. First pitch from Fenway Park is scheduled for 7:10 p.m. ET, and you can watch the game, plus an hour of pregame coverage, on NESN.