PEORIA, Ariz. -- With 16 newcomers among the 28 pitchers reporting to camp on Friday for the Mariners, learning names was the first order of business for many. But even one of the familiar faces had a decidedly different look, as slimmed-down southpaw James Paxton had more than a few folks doing double takes as he went about his business.
Paxton, who missed much of the past two seasons with injuries, spent this winter working hard to be in better physical condition and wound up dropping more than 20 pounds from his 6-foot-4 frame.
"I'm right between 218 to 220 right now," the 27-year-old said after throwing his final informal bullpen session before pitchers and catchers take the field together for the first time on Saturday. "It feels like a pretty good fighting weight."
Indeed, Paxton looks much trimmer and more athletic, an important distinction for a pitcher who'll be fighting for a rotation berth this year after the Mariners added Wade Miley, Nathan Karns and Joe Wieland via trades.
"The guys that know me from last year, they notice right away," Paxton said with a smile. "They tell me that I look great and in good shape. They say I almost look skinny. It's funny. I'm still the same guy, and I'm going to go out there and do my job."
Paxton is back to what he weighed as a 22-year-old, when he first came to camp with the Mariners in 2011. While the now-lanky lefty will still need to show he can stay healthy, his offseason work appears to have put him in a better position to do that, and he said he feels much stronger physically.
"I think I may have gotten a little bit heavy there, being injured and not doing the pitching and burning calories that way," he said. "So it was just kind of a conscious thing to feel and look better and more athletic. We added in some more things into my workouts -- some more explosive movements to jack up my heart rate through interval stuff. It just helped a lot."
Paxton has been outstanding when healthy, going 12-8 with a 3.16 ERA in 30 starts. He was 3-4 with a 3.90 ERA in 13 starts in a 2015 season spent largely on the disabled list. Mariners trainers set a goal for Paxton to lose 10 pounds, and he more than doubled that with an offseason regimen that included a diet built largely around eating smaller portions.
Friday's bullpen session was his fourth prior to the start of camp, and he said the middle finger on his throwing hand that caused so much problem last year has completely healed. He'll throw his first bullpen in camp on Monday to kick off a spring that figures to get interesting as the battle for the final starting spots play out.
"I think you are always competing," Paxton said. "You have to get yourself ready and do what you have to do. You can't worry about what they're doing because that's just expended energy you should be using to take care of yourself. So I'm not going to worry about what anyone else is doing. Take care of myself, get myself ready and let those guys make the decision when the time comes."
And he acknowledged that certainly isn't something that was easy in previous years as a youngster coming up.
"It's definitely a growing process, and you learn kind of how to handle these things as you go on," Paxton said. "Some guys are obviously better at it than others, but I feel like my experiences have definitely helped me be ready for a moment like this. I'm ready to go and play some ball."