A healthy James Paxton would go a long way toward helping the Boston Red Sox climb into a playoff spot
Paxton will try to string together a fourth consecutive stellar start when the left-hander takes the mound in the opener of a four-game series against the Minnesota Twins on Monday night in Minneapolis
Paxton (2-1, 3.09 ERA) allowed just one unearned run in six innings in his most recent outing, last Monday against the Colorado Rockies, a game the Red Sox lost 4-3 in 10 innings
Before that, Paxton gave up only two runs in seven innings against Cleveland on June 6 and one run in five innings vs. Cincinnati on May 31.
"We feel really confident whenever Paxton is taking the bump right now," Red Sox outfielder Rob Refsnyder said. "He's got pretty special stuff, as you see. A high 90s fastball, kind of just bearing in. He gives us ace-caliber stuff.
Paxton did not appear in a major league game last season while rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. In early March, he was diagnosed with a grade 1 hamstring strain and didn't make his season debut until May 12.
Red Sox manager Alex Cora believes Paxton's command will only get better
"Early on, he's going to know if it's the cutter or the curveball (that's most effective), but the fastball, it will play late in games," Cora said. "That's the guy I remember seeing in '17."
That was the year Cora and Paxton were both in the American League West -- Cora as bench coach of the Houston Astros and Paxton pitching for the Seattle Mariners.
Paxton went 6-0 with a 1.37 ERA in July of that season before an injury again sidelined him for a long stretch, and he finished 12-5 with a 2.98 ERA.
Paxton has made six starts against the Twins in his career and is 3-1 with a 2.27 ERA
The Twins plan to send right-hander Pablo Lopez to the mound for the series opener
Lopez (3-3, 4.27) hopes to take advantage of an extra day's rest granted by Twins manager Rocco Baldelli when he implemented a bullpen game Saturday against the Detroit Tigers. That strategy paid off with a 2-0 win
"As the season goes on, if you can grab them an extra day, it gives them an extra day to recover, an extra day mentally," Baldelli said. "As pitchers' (velocity) has continued to climb, workload-wise, that extra day helps."
Lopez pitched well enough to win his past two starts, both against division leaders.
He held the Tampa Bay Rays to one run and five hits over seven innings on June 7 but left with the Twins trailing 1-0, and the Rays eventually won 2-1
Lopez came back on Tuesday and limited the visiting Milwaukee Brewers to three runs and four hits in six-plus innings but did not factor in the decision in Minnesota's 7-5 win.
After spending five seasons in the National League with the Miami Marlins, Lopez was traded to the Red Sox in January for second baseman Luis Arraez
The Marlins have come out ahead on the deal so far, as Arraez enters Monday's games leading the majors with a .388 batting average.
Lopez hasn't faced Boston in his career.
--Field Level Media