There are better ways for a pitcher to get his first taste of Red Sox-Yankees than James Paxton will in Tuesday night’s first of two games between the blood rivals at Yankee Stadium.
“Yankees-Red Sox has been a thing for a long time. I am excited to be part of it. It should be a really intense game. I am going to give it everything I got,’’ Paxton said. “I am sure I will be a little nervous going in, having it be my first experience being part of this rivalry. But all I can do is go out there and enjoy it, bring my best.’’
In three starts, the 30-year-old lefty has been OK in one and terrible in his past two. On Saturday, Yankees adviser Carlos Beltran showed Paxton film of his last start against the Astros in which Paxton’s knuckle wasn’t hid enough. That tipped the runners on second base to what pitch was coming and they were able to pass that on to the hitters. It played a part in Paxton giving up five runs and eight hits (two homers) in four innings of an 8-6 loss.
Acquired from the Mariners in a deal that shipped lefty Justus Sheffield to Seattle, Paxton was viewed as at least a third starter and maybe more. When ace Luis Severino landed on the injured list, Paxton and J.A. Happ were counted on to pick up the slack. Neither has come close. Paxton is 1-2 with a 6.00 ERA. Happ, who starts Wednesday night, is 0-2 with an 8.76 ERA and hasn’t worked past the fifth in three outings after inking a two-year deal for $34 million and a return to The Bronx.
In four career starts against the Red Sox, Paxton is 2-0 with a 2.49 ERA, but his most recent outing was June 15 in Seattle when the Red Sox raked him for six runs and seven hits in 2 ¹/₃ innings in a 7-6 Mariners victory.
Since he went 7-0 with a 2.69 ERA in 11 regular–season starts for the Yankees last year after being acquired in late July from the Blue Jays, Happ’s disappointing start can’t be attributed to getting acclimated to New York.
That could be the case with Paxton, who has admitted to trying too hard. He said he has spoken to a sports psychologist he’s been seeing since his days in the minor leagues to help him adjust to his new surroundings and the pressure that comes with playing in New York.
That pressure increases Tuesday night.
When the Yankees put third baseman Miguel Andujar on the 10-day injured list April 1 with a labrum injury in the right shoulder, they said it would be two weeks before it would be known if he could avoid surgery or have his season ended by it.
Andujar started playing catch in Houston last week, but as of Sunday there was no word on his status. DJ LeMahieu has started nine games at third and Gio Urshela five and the Yankees have gone 5-9 without Andujar. In those nine starts LeMahieu has hit .433 (13-for-30). In his starts Urshela is hitting .357 (5-for-14). The pair has combined to drive in six runs but don’t provide the power or run production that Andujar did last year when he hit 27 homers, drove in 92 runs and finished second in the AL Rookie of the Year race.
With the Red Sox starting lefty Chris Sale on Tuesday night it’s likely Brett Gardner will hit down in the order as he did Sunday against White Sox left-hander Carlos Rodon.
Aaron Boone said Sunday that when the Yankees face a lefty starter he would “probably’’ go with LeMahieu at the top of the order.
Gardner has started all but one of the Yankees’ 15 games and that was against Tigers lefty Matthew Boyd on April 3. Even though Gardner is struggling with a .190 batting average, Boone’s other choices in center field are Mike Tauchman and Tyler Wade, each of whom also bat from the left side. Boone could move Aaron Judge from right to center and start Clint Frazier in left but that still would mean Tauchman or Wade would be in right.
Gardner, who is 0-for-11 with runners in scoring position, is 1-for-12 (.083) against lefties and has a .154 on-base percentage. He is a .160 (4-for-25) hitter with 10 strikeouts against Sale.
Sale has also been tough on Judge (3-for-18; .167 with 13 Ks) and Austin Romine (2-for-17; .118 with eight Ks).
— Additional reporting by Dan Martin