TAMPA — James Paxton is still trying to figure out his way around the Yankees’ minor league complex and remember names in his new organization, but the lefty has already quickly learned what he is in store for this season in The Bronx.
“I feel like playing with the Yankees, you’re expected to win,” Paxton said Thursday after throwing and working out, six days before pitchers and catchers are required to report for spring training. “It’s World Series or bust for Yankees fans, and I’m excited about having that pressure and being on a team that’s so committed to winning.”
The 30-year-old starter has never been to the playoffs across six seasons in the majors, but figures to play a key role in getting the Yankees back there this October.
Paxton was acquired from the Mariners in a November trade for a trio of minor leaguers, including top pitching prospect Justus Sheffield, in a move to bolster the rotation. He has already been throwing with Luis Severino and J.A. Happ — his former teammate in Seattle — and with CC Sabathia and Masahiro Tanaka on the way, he has high hopes for the unit as a whole.
“I think we’re going to be really good,” he said. “I played catch with Severino my first day out and, man, the ball jumps out of his hands, something special. He’s a different animal. The other guys, J.A. Happ, I talked with him the other day. I played with him in Seattle. He’s going to be awesome. Tanaka’s always nasty.
“And then you got CC, who’s just a salty vet who knows exactly what he’s doing out there. I’m really looking forward to learning from him. I’ve watched him throughout my career, just trying to learn from what he does. So I’m excited to get to meet him in person.”
Paxton, who will earn $8.575 million this season and is still arbitration-eligible next year, went 41-26 with a 3.42 ERA and 9.5 strikeouts per nine innings across 102 starts with the Mariners. He has made five trips to the disabled list in the last three years and at least one every season since 2014. Last year, he missed time with lower-back inflammation and then a bruised left forearm, after he was hit with a line drive.
“I think there’s an upside there,” pitching coach Larry Rothschild said. “He certainly has the ability, he’s shown that. It’s just a matter of one, staying healthy, and the consistency. He’s got a chance to really make a nice addition to this staff.”
Paxton has spent time getting to know Rothschild and catcher Gary Sanchez this week in a calmer setting before spring training officially begins. Sanchez — who caught a bullpen session from Happ on Thursday — is scheduled to catch Paxton’s on Friday as they begin to build a relationship on the field.
When he arrived to the facility Monday, Paxton was still carrying a Mariners equipment bag over his shoulder, though he has since been given a Yankees bag. He is also now walking through the right doors, he said, which was a struggle earlier in the week.
And as an added bonus of joining his new team, he no longer has to worry about pitching to the Yankees’ lineup.
“I’m excited not to have to face some of those guys again,” Paxton said. “They got some talented guys on this team. I’m looking forward to being on the same team now. I think they’re going to score a lot of runs.”
Didi Gregorius arrived at the facility Thursday and said he hit one-handed in the cage as he continues to rehab from Tommy John surgery.
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