James Paxton to miss rest of season with right knee inflammation

James Paxton’s season is officially over, and his Red Sox career might be as well.

The veteran left-hander was placed on the 15-day injured list Sunday with right knee inflammation, and Red Sox manager Alex Cora said he will not pitch again for the remainder of the season. The Red Sox originally hoped skipping Paxton’s spot in the rotation and giving him an extra five days rest would help, but in the end they decided it would be best to shut him down.

“He’s been barking for a little bit, we tried to push him back to see if he can bounce back but I don’t think it makes sense to push him,” Cora said. “First things first, the player, he’s been through so much throughout his career that at this point with where we’re at it doesn’t make sense.”

Nick Pivetta will fill Paxton’s spot in the starting rotation for the remainder of the season.

The injury ends a roller coaster season that saw Paxton briefly re-emerge as one of the American League’s most effective starting pitchers after missing nearly three years due to injury. After sitting out his first year in Boston while working his way back from Tommy John surgery, Paxton made his Red Sox debut on May 12 and posted a 2.73 ERA over his first 10 starts.

During that time he and rookie Brayan Bello established themselves as Boston’s top two starters, but after the All-Star break Paxton began running out of steam. Over his last nine starts Paxton posted a 6.98 ERA, and in his last three starts he couldn’t make it through the fifth inning.

His final start for Boston was among the worst of his career, allowing six runs over 1.1 innings in the club’s 13-2 shellacking in Kansas City on Sept. 1.

Even if things didn’t end well, Cora praised Paxton for coming back after all the adversity he’s faced.

“I think the medical staff did an outstanding job these past two years to get him to the point where he was one of the best pitchers in the big leagues. Just towards the end his mechanics were off, the breaking ball he lost and then he became a one-dimensional pitcher,” Cora said. “But we’re very proud of him, he was amazing and we’ll see what happens in the future.”

Paxton is due to become a free agent this winter, and Cora declined to speculate on whether or not he might return.

Cora praises prospects

Since Ceddanne Rafaela, Wilyer Abreu and Enmanuel Valdez were called up over the past two weeks Cora has been trying to thread a needle between pushing for the playoffs and getting the top prospects playing time.

With Boston’s playoff odds creeping closer to zero, Cora indicated the three should start playing more the rest of the way.

“Obviously (Saturday) with everything that happened around us it’s getting tougher to get to October so (Rafaela) is a good player, Willy is a good player, Valdy is a good player, so we’ll get them at-bats, we’ll keep pushing them and hopefully they stay hot and help us win games.”

Rafaela and Abreu were each in the starting lineup Sunday, with Rafaela making his first big league start at center field and Abreu bumping over to left. All three have made an impact at the plate since being called up this fall, entering Sunday with batting averages of .333 or better, and Cora said he’s been impressed by the progress they’ve made over the course of the season.

“The three of them, they’re excellent, it’s a good group, a group that is important for us in September and important for us in the future,” Cora said. “They’re playing well, all of them.”

Rafaela currently ranks as the No. 3 prospect in the Red Sox system and Abreu and Valdez, both acquired last summer in the Christian Vazquez deal, are regarded as top 30 prospects by various outlets as well. Abreu in particular has distinguished himself, and recently he was voted as having the best strike zone discipline and outfield arm in the International League (Triple-A) by the league’s managers. Rafaela was also chosen as best defensive outfielder.

“At the end we got two good players for Christian,” Cora said. “I know in the beginning it didn’t look that way, but they’re really good.”

Cora said after the season Abreu will play winter ball in Venezuela and Valdez in the Dominican Republic, and they are still working on a plan for Rafaela as well.

Whitlock activated

In addition to James Paxton being placed on the 15-day IL, the Red Sox also activated right-hander Garrett Whitlock from the bereavement list, called up right-hander Nick Robertson from Triple-A and optioned left-hander Joe Jacques to the WooSox.

Cora confirmed that Kutter Crawford, Nick Pivetta and Tanner Houck will start the first three games of this week’s upcoming series against the New York Yankees, and that Thursday is still to be determined.

Chris Sale may start Thursday, but if the club doesn’t feel he’s bouncing back right he’ll be pushed to Saturday and Bello would start Friday in Toronto. An opener would start the Thursday finale in that case.

“The most important thing here is to take care of the player, especially with where we are right now,” Cora said of Sale, noting that there have been no discussions of shutting the veteran down. “We’re not going to push him to get him hurt, the goal is for him to finish the season healthy and be ready for next year.”

Corey Kluber (right shoulder inflammation) made a rehab start for the WooSox on Saturday, throwing one scoreless inning with no hits, no walks and a strikeout. He was back with the big league club in Boston on Sunday and Cora said he’ll most likely make another rehab start later this week.

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