PEORIA, Ariz. — Many teammates saw James Paxton for the first time in months on Friday, and something was missing from the big left-hander.
About 20 pounds, actually. Paxton reported to Seattle Mariners spring training with pitchers and catchers having shed weight, and his new physique has him looking forward to a season of good health.
Paxton has been in the opening day rotation each of the past two seasons but only made 13 starts each year. The 27-year-old spent four months on the disabled list with a left lat strain in 2014 and had a 3 1/2 -month stint on the DL last season after straining a tendon in his left middle finger.
“They say I just look great. Good shape. Say I almost look skinny,” the 6-foot-4 Paxton said. “I may have got a little bit heavy there, especially being injured and not doing the pitching. I wanted to lose some weight to feel better and more athletic.”
Paxton threw a 35-pitch bullpen session on Friday and appeared loose with his delivery, having been told by pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre to come to camp with three or four sessions completed.
“I feel like I’m ready to come into camp and throw (bullpen sessions) and start games here shortly,” Paxton said. “I was probably at this same weight (220 pounds) when I came in (to major league spring training) back in 2012, 2013. But I definitely wasn’t as strong. So I feel like I’m in the best shape of my life right now.”
Paxton is a familiar face on a team full of new ones this season. Manager Scott Servais and some of his staff are new, and the Mariners have 17 major league players on the spring training roster that were acquired this offseason.
“Still learning names,” Paxton said. “Everyone I’ve met has been awesome. I’m just looking forward to meeting the rest of the guys and finally knowing all the names and not having to ask the guys for the third time, ‘What’s your name again?’ ”
Some of those new players arrived at camp Friday. Pitcher Wade Miley came over in a trade with Boston in December and is expected to be part of the starting rotation. First baseman Dae-Ho Lee, a star in Korea and Japan who signed a minor-league deal two weeks ago, worked out Friday in his first appearance with his new team. So did veteran infielder Gaby Sanchez, a former All-Star as a Florida Marlin in 2011 who played in Japan last season.
New catcher Chris Iannetta also reported for his physical. He spent the past four seasons with the Los Angeles Angels before signing as a free agent with Seattle in November.
As Paxton battles for a rotation spot, his injury history is a concern. The Mariners added right-hander Nathan Karns, who was 7-5 with a 3.67 ERA in 2015, in an offseason trade with Tampa Bay.
Karns and Paxton figure to be the leading two contenders for a final rotation spot.
“I think you’re always competing. You’re getting yourself ready,” Paxton said. “You can’t worry about what other guys are doing because then that’s just expended energy that doesn’t matter, that you should be spending taking care of yourself.”
Paxton has looked sharp when healthy, including a 20-inning scoreless streak last season, when he went 3-4 with a 3.90 ERA.
“My experiences have definitely helped me be ready for a moment like this and I’m ready to go and play some ball,” he said.
• Catcher Jesus Sucre arrived at spring training on crutches. He broke a bone in his right leg while sliding in a game in his native Venezuela in January. Sucre has spent parts of the last three seasons in the majors with the Mariners.
“They’re talking about six months. I hope I can get back this year, play a couple of games,” he said.
General manager Jerry Dipoto said Sucre will eventually end up on the 60-day disabled list and the team is not anticipating him playing this season.
• Star pitcher Felix Hernandez arrived to the delight of many in the building Friday afternoon. His 2016 look features a swath of bleached blonde hair on the top of his head and a similarly-colored scraggly beard.
• 2B Robinson Cano was one of the early arrivals among position players, to the pleasant surprise of Dipoto. “We were expecting Robbie maybe the 23rd or 24th, so the fact that he showed up is great,” Dipoto said.