Ex-Cat Paxton vying for spot in Mariners' starting rotation
It's everything they've worked for or thought about since baseball became something more than just a game to play with their friends. It's just 60 feet, 6 inches from their grasp, reliant on their ability to fire a baseball from that distance. It's a goal fans want, and the Seattle Mariners need, them to achieve.
For Taijuan Walker and former University of Kentucky standout James Paxton, a place in the opening day rotation is there for them to take. While both have been considered promising prospects for all of their young careers, they've never faced pre-season expectations quite like this.
Even Felix Hernandez anticipates them to be in the rotation. Somewhere between extolling the virtues of LeBron James and discussing the eclectic mix of music being played during daily workouts, the M's ace was asked if it's fair to Walker and Paxton that fans have cemented them into the rotation despite just a combined seven starts in the major leagues.
"They're in," Hernandez said in a tone so matter-of-fact it was as if he were describing Seattle precipitation in the winter.
That sentiment didn't change with a handful of reporters around him later. Hernandez was asked what advice he'd give Walker and Paxton to make the rotation.
"They will," he said, pausing. "They have a lot of talent. The advice is just to keep working hard and do your thing. That's all they have to do."
The pair looked solid last September. Paxton went 3-0 in four starts, with a 1.50 earned-run average, striking out 21 batters in 24 innings. Walker made three starts, posting a 1-0 record and 3.60 ERA. He struck out 12 batters in 15 innings.
Paxton didn't change his off-season workouts or routine after his late-season success. There was just a different mindset during them because of that brief time in the bigs.
"The experience I had in September was better for my mental preparation," he said. "I've been there so I know what it's like to be there. I visualized what it's like to be on that mound."
There is a sense of belonging. Because no matter how hard you throw, how much your curveball breaks or how confident you might seem, there is always that lingering fear in a pitcher that his stuff won't play at the big-league level.
Paxton and Walker have no such reservations after last year.
"I found that you don't have to be perfect," Paxton said. "You don't have to nibble on the corners so much, you can get those guys out in the strike zone. I didn't necessarily have to be on the black. It was just get it on the outer third of the plate and make sure it's down in the zone. Just go right at guys."
They are far from finished products. Their success starts with fastball command. Both can hit mid-90s with the pitch, but so can a lot of other pitchers. Command is the separator.
"It's always that first," Paxton said.
UK fails to hold on to 4-0 lead, drops to 2-2
USC Upstate rallied with three runs in the bottom of the sixth inning to break open a tie game and lift the Spartans to an 8-6 win over Kentucky on Monday in Spartanburg, S.C.
Kentucky (2-2) took a 4-0 lead after two innings, before USC Upstate rallied with four in the third, one in the fifth and three in the sixth. The Cats' offense collected 12 hits, three hit batters, four walks and six runs but couldn't get the clutch hit, stranding 11 on base.
High school basketball
Henry Clay boys edge Madison Central in OT
Felix Wilson's putback with one second left gave Henry Clay, 20th in Dave Cantrall's Rating the State, a 55-54 victory in overtime against visiting Madison Central. Jeremiah Tisdale led the Blue Devils with 25 points and 13 rebounds, and Wilson had 12 points and eight boards. Sam Jones scored 20 points and grabbed 14 rebounds for the Indians, who also got eight points and seven blocked shots from Isaiah Johnson.
■ James "Beetle" Bolden scored 19 points to help No. 8 Holmes hold off visiting Harrison County 59-54.
■ Braxton Whitmore scored 24 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in Breathitt County's 81-57 win at home against Harlan County. Zack Caldwell had 20 points and 15 points in the Black Bears' loss.
■ Perry County Central's Kayla Rankin outscored host Owsley County by herself with 47 in a 75-45 victory. Rankin also had 12 rebounds, seven steals and three blocked shots.
■ Boyle County senior Devin Conely scored a career-high 36 points in 76-71 victory at home over Madison Southern.
■ Notre Dame senior Paige Kellam scored all seven of points scored in overtime in the No. 15 Pandas' 39-32 win at Beechwood. Kellam finished with 15 points.
■ Megan Stickler's 20 points helped No. 22 East Carter (24-2) earn a 66-49 victory at Bath County.
■ Freshman Hannah Hollifield had 13 points and 11 rebounds to lead host Knott County Central past Leslie County 70-65.
College basketball Harrow scores 1,000th career point in win
Former Kentucky and North Carolina State point guard Ryan Harrow had 17 points and reached 1,000 career points Monday night as Georgia State bounced back from its only conference loss to beat Texas State 68-41 in Atlanta. Manny Atkins added 15 points to come within seven points of the same career milestone for the Panthers (18-7, 11-1 Sun Belt Conference).
■ Roy Williams earned his 300th win at North Carolina with an 81-75 win against Florida State as the Tar Heels rallied from a 15-point first-half deficit to record its seventh consecutive victory. Freshman Kennedy Meeks scored a career-high 23 points for North Carolina, while Marcus Paige chipped in 20.
■ Pikeville, ranked second in NAIA, trailed Cumberlands by two with 12 minutes to play, but took over from there in a 92-76 victory at home. Bruce Reed led the Bears with 20 points and Chris Cantino had 14 points and 15 rebounds.
■ Brandon Britt scored 22 points to lead William & Mary to a 93-70 win over visiting North Carolina-Wilmington. Freshman Omar Prewitt (Montgomery County) had eight points and three assists in 21 minutes off the bench in the Tribe's win.
Andrea Howard (Franklin County) hit four threes and finished with a game-high 28 points as Georgetown College's women (17-6, 11-4) snapped a two-game losing streak with an 86-74 victory at Bluefield. Kourtney Tyra (Jackson County) added 22 points, including three three-pointers.
■ Almesha Jones nailed an eight-foot jump shot from just outside the lane with one-tenth of a second left to lift Morehead State to a 45-43 triumph at Jacksonville State.
■ Marie Carpenter went 6-for-9 from three-point range and finished with 25 points in Eastern Kentucky's 74-70 win at Tennessee Tech. Pilar Walker (Paul Dunbar) added 11 points, nine assists and three blocked shots.
■ Cumberlands trailed by one with six minutes left before going on an 11-0 run en route to a 69-63 victory over host Pikeville. Julie Haye had 21 points and 10 rebounds for the Patriots.
The last word
NBA legend Karl Malone, a Louisiana native, on the New Orleans Pelicans' Anthony Davis, according to NBCSports.com:
"I'll be the first to admit this... when they first drafted him I wasn't totally for sure (sold on him) because I hadn't seen how he played with his teammates. You can truly build a great team around this young man. I love to see him play and I love the way he keeps his composure and just plays the game."