Four innings after almost three weeks on the injured list are not enough to drool over no matter how good James Paxton looked Wednesday.
Yet, when it comes to a Yankees rotation that has been dealing with injuries since the start of spring training and still doesn’t have a set date for staff ace Luis Severino’s return from the shelf, Paxton’s performance provided a lift.
“It’s been a lot of fun to watch,’’ Paxton said of the Yankees’ success while he was on the IL with an inflamed left knee. “Even more to be part of it.’’
Backed by homers from DJ LeMahieu, Luke Voit, Gio Urshela and Gleyber Torres, Paxton worked with an early lead and watched the Yankees roll to a 7-0 win that was witnessed by a Yankee Stadium crowd of 40,918. The win was the 36-19 Yankees’ 13th in 16 games and pointed them toward a weekend series with the Red Sox in The Bronx.
Placed on a 75-pitch limit in his first start since May 3, Paxton didn’t allow a run or a hit in four frames in which he walked two and struck out seven.
With his pitch count at 66, the Yankees could have squeezed another out or two out of Paxton. But thanks to first-inning, back-to-back homers by LeMahieu and Voit, a solo blast by Urshela in the second and Brett Gardner’s sacrifice fly in the fifth, the Yankees led 4-0 after top of the fourth and manager Aaron Boone opted to summon Chad Green for the fifth.
“I was ready for it,’’ said Paxton, who explained his knee wasn’t a big deal. “I knew they didn’t want to push it.’’
Green didn’t allow a hit in the fifth and a combined no-hitter chatter increased heading to the sixth. That ended quickly when Wil Myers’ bloop to right field went in and out of LeMahieu’s glove when he went to the ground. The Padres added a double in the eighth and two singles in the ninth.
In Paxton’s last start at the Stadium, he had an issue with his right foot catching in the landing spot on the mound. Wednesday he dug the hole differently and didn’t have an issue.
“I didn’t dig the hole as deep, just a little groove so I could make my turn,’’ Paxton said.
Based on the numbers, there is a lot for Paxton to like working in The Bronx as opposed to outside the 718 area code. In five games at the Stadium this year he has a 0.34 ERA (one earned run in 26 ²/₃ innings), 37 strikeouts and allowed 11 hits. Away from home, the left-hander has given up 21 hits in 15 innings and has a 7.20 ERA.
“He was unbelievable,’’ Voit said of Paxton, who is 4-2 with a 2.81 ERA. “The fastball was effective up in the zone and he got guys to chase down in the zone. That’s a pretty good lineup.’’
Playing second base, LeMahieu had a very good look at Paxton dominating the Padres’ lineup for four frames.
“He looked like himself, he looked really good,’’ LeMahieu said.
The Yankees hope that CC Sabathia tastes as much success on Sunday against the Red Sox as Paxton did in his first start off the IL even if the win was awarded to Jonathan Holder for his two scoreless innings.
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As for what is next, Paxton feels the pitch count will be increased over the next two starts and then vanish.
“I would imagine the next time out 80 to 85 [pitches] and the one after that 100, 100-plus,’’ Paxton said. “Something like that.’’
Boone has credited the rotation for the Yankees’ spot atop the AL East standings because its members have repeatedly provided the Yankees a chance to win.
If Paxton can build off of Wednesday’s effort when the pitch count rises that praise will only increase.