Paddack returns with revitalized fastball

May 10th, 2021

After a short-lived stint on the injured list, made his return on Sunday afternoon in San Francisco. Evidently so did his 2019 fastball.

The right-hander spent the past 10 days on the IL for undisclosed reasons, largely unable to throw and resigned mostly to pushups, sit-ups and cardio on a stationary bike.

“Basically,” Paddack said, “it was the longest 10 days.”

When he took the mound on Sunday afternoon for the Padres’ 11-1 victory in San Francisco, Paddack looked like he had a point to make. And did he ever make it.

During his struggles the past two seasons, Paddack’s fastball has been anything but the elite pitch that he’d ascended to the big leagues with. But Paddack -- on a strict pitch count that limited him to three innings Sunday -- pitched scoreless ball with four strikeouts, relying heavily on his heater. He struck out the side in the third -- all on fastballs.

“I told myself not to give in, and I’m going to beat these guys with my best pitch -- fastball at the top of the zone,” Paddack said. “I just [wanted to] have that edge -- that ‘here it is, hit me’ mentality.”

With the Padres leading, 5-0, Paddack put runners on the corners with one out in the third. Buster Posey and Brandon Belt were due up, and it felt like the type of inning that has spiraled on Paddack in the past. But he dialed up seven consecutive fastballs to end the frame with two strikeouts -- including 96 mph to finish Posey and 97 to finish Belt.

“Any pitcher in the big leagues will agree to this: There’s not a better feeling on the mound than striking somebody out, swinging, on your fastball,” Paddack said.

Afterward, Paddack skipped off the mound, fist-pumped and let out a roar -- reminiscent of the same swagger he’d demonstrated regularly during his 2019 breakthrough. The 25-year-old right-hander has spent the better part of his past 20 starts trying to rekindle that mojo.

Paddack would later note that perhaps his time away from the field wasn’t the worst thing. He connected with his brother, Michael, often, via Facetime, and had one key takeaway from their discussions.

“Get back to that Chris Paddack,” he said. “Stop worrying about being the Sheriff. Stop worrying about being someone I’m not, and be Chris Paddack. That’s basically what I did.”

Paddack entered play Sunday with a 5.40 ERA through five starts, but he clearly hadn’t been as poor as the numbers would indicate, having posted a 3.23 FIP, while enduring some brutal defense behind him. Paddack was relatively sharp during his most recent outing in Arizona on April 27.

Despite some of Paddack's early struggles, his return to the rotation was undoubtedly an important development. The Padres have gotten an excellent start to the season from Yu Darvish, and -- even with hiccups on Friday and Saturday -- solid efforts from Blake Snell and Joe Musgrove. After those three, however, the back end of their rotation is loaded with question marks.

Dinelson Lamet only recently came off the injured list with forearm tightness and Ryan Weathers experienced the symptoms of dead arm late last month. Weathers relieved Paddack with three scoreless innings on Sunday, and Lamet is slated to start Monday in Colorado. But Paddack’s return -- particularly if he continues to pitch like he did on Sunday -- gives the Padres’ rotation some much needed stability.

“I thought he was outstanding today,” said Padres manager Jayce Tingler. “He was in control most of the day. He got swing-and-miss. He got soft contact. Overall, I thought it was a really good day.”

To clear space for Paddack on the roster, the Padres optioned righty reliever Nabil Crismatt to Triple-A El Paso. They also needed to clear a spot on their 40-man roster, after promoting Miguel Diaz when Paddack landed on the IL. To do so, outfield prospect Jorge Oña was transferred to the 60-day IL, after recently undergoing elbow surgery.