All eyes on Paxton in first bullpen session
After ending near-two-year holdout, prospect hurls 30 pitches
PEORIA, Ariz. -- James Paxton, the 22-year-old left-hander who ended a near-two-year holdout last week by agreeing to a contract with the Mariners, threw his first bullpen session Friday as general manager Jack Zduriencik, manager Eric Wedge, pitching coach Carl Willis and many of the club's officials looked on.
Paxton threw a breaking pitch in the dirt at one point, prompting bullpen catcher Jason Phillips to tell him, "Relax, nobody's watching."
That drew a laugh from Paxton, who threw 30 pitches and said he was on schedule to throw a few more bullpens before getting into batting practice and simulated games as his progression begins.
2010 Spring Training - Seattle Mariners
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Sights & Sounds
Spring Training Info
"Nice," Zduriencik said after watching his newest pitcher throw. "Big body, good arm, good breaking ball."
The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Paxton said he wasn't surprised by being the center of attention in his first step onto a mound with the Mariners, even if that mound was in the bullpen.
"I kind of figured there'd be some people watching the new guy and seeing how he throws," the former Kentucky standout said. "It was exciting. A lot of fun. I enjoyed it.
"It's all part of it. You can't hide from it. It's all there. You just have to accept it and go out there and do what you do."
Paxton said the Mariners wanted him to just throw an easy first session, but he noted, "There is no such thing as going 80 percent. But it felt real good. I was happy with where I was.
"I thought my arm worked real well for not throwing a bullpen in two weeks. I spotted up the fastball a little bit. I'm trying to find the release point on my other breaking pitches and changeup, but that will all come in time. I'm not really worried about that."
According to Willis, it was a good first step.
"It was very impressive given he hasn't been on a mound in a couple weeks," he said. "I was quite pleased with his ability to command his fastball as well as he did. Those secondary pitches will come as he gets more reps.
"Obviously, to have a good number of his future teammates watching him for the first time, as well as the front office and media, it's a lot of pressure for a kid who three weeks ago didn't have a contract. I thought he handled that really well, and that speaks to his focus and ability."
Wedge thrilled with Pineda's composure
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Not everything is going to come easy for rookie pitcher Michael Pineda this season, so it's important for manager Eric Wedge to see how he reacts to difficult circumstances in Spring Training.
The 22-year-old gave up his first runs in Cactus League play Friday, surrendering a home run and two doubles among the four hits and two runs he allowed in three innings of work in Seattle's 5-5 tie with the Indians.
But Wedge was happy with the way Pineda settled himself after a leadoff home run to Asdrubal Cabrera in the third, as he retired his last three batters in order on a day he was fighting his control for the first time.
"He was up a little bit," Wedge said. "He was rushing through his pitches and the ball elevated on him a little bit, but he worked through it and finished strong."
The skipper continues to be impressed by the 6-foot-7, 260-pound right-hander, who has now yielded just two runs and five hits in his seven Cactus League innings.
"He continues to feel through different situations, different lineups, what kind of stuff he has that day and how he reacts to it," Wedge said. "Whether it be from mechanical side, emotional side or even the mental side of it, everything we've seen so far has been positive.
"You're always looking to see how young players react to different outcomes, and I think he's done a heckuva job so far."
Pineda stepped off the mound several times, trying to slow things down with runners on base, and he appeared less comfortable than in his two previous appearances. Catcher Chris Gimenez went out and held a brief chat at one point, with a simple message.
"The catcher said, 'Hey Pineda. It's OK. It's no problem. Throw the ball right in the middle. The hitter, no chance with you,'" Pineda said.
Pineda finished with 49 pitches in his expected three innings. He was throwing on just three days' rest, as the Mariners juggled things so he won't be on the same schedule as Felix Hernandez for the rest of the spring.
"I feel strong," said Pineda. "I don't know when I'll throw next time, but I'm ready to go."
Felix to start vs. Minor Leaguers instead of A's
PEORIA, Ariz. -- Felix Hernandez's second spring start is Saturday, but the American League Cy Young Award winner will square off against a group of Mariners Minor Leaguers, rather than pitch against the A's for the second time in five days.
The Mariners turn to rookie Blake Beavan in their Cactus League contest at 12:05 p.m. PT at Peoria Stadium, with Luke French -- another candidate for a rotation berth -- to follow.
Hernandez, meanwhile, gets four innings of work on the Mariners' main practice field against a collection of players who are in early for the Minor League camp that begins on Sunday.
Hernandez pitched 2 2/3 innings against the A's on Monday, and the Mariners don't want to give Oakland batters too many chances to get comfortable against the man who'll face them April 1 in the first game of the regular season.
Yoervis Medina, a 22-year-old out of Venezuela, will also throw three innings in the Minor League game, which will be limited to four innings. Closer candidate Chris Ray, who has been hindered by a sore calf, will pitch the other inning for the team opposing Hernandez.
Pitching coach Carl Willis has been trying to line up "B" game opposition for several of Hernandez's scheduled pitching days rather than have him face AL West rivals, but he said it's been difficult finding teams with openings on their schedule.
Hernandez's next scheduled Cactus League game is Thursday against the Royals in Surprise.
Jason Vargas, the other Seattle starter being brought along slowly this spring, makes his second start Sunday against the Angels in Tempe. Knuckleballer Charlie Haeger, sidelined for much of camp with a sore back, is scheduled to make his first appearance in that game as well.