Paddack 'roaring back' as first year nears close

Padres righty fires 6 strong innings in shutout of Cubs

September 12th, 2019

SAN DIEGO -- If, indeed, this was the final start of ’s rookie season, he went out in style.

Paddack -- the brash right-hander who burst onto the scene in April with a big fastball and a bigger personality -- seems destined to end his first year in the big leagues on a high note. He blanked the Wild Card-chasing Cubs over six innings Wednesday night in a 4-0 San Diego victory.

It was merely the latest gem in a three-start stretch in which Paddack has allowed one run while striking out 23 over 18 1/3 innings. Right now, he’s as sharp as he’s been all season. But has he earned himself another start in Milwaukee next week?

The Padres were non-committal. Paddack wasn’t.

"I hope so, man," he said. "If they tell me I have the ball, I'm going to make sure that I'm ready."

Of course, there are other factors at play, and all along Paddack has said he’d be accepting of the organization’s plan for him. On Wednesday, he upped his innings beyond 135 for the season -- a 50 percent increase from his 2018 totals. A year ago, Paddack threw only 90 frames in the Minors in his first season back from Tommy John surgery.

The Padres have strictly monitored his workload this season as a result. Paddack hasn’t reached 100 pitches in a start this year, and he hasn’t pitched with fewer than five days of rest. When he battled some fatigue in mid-June, Paddack was shut down for 10 days and optioned to the Minors.

But the Padres have closely guarded their plans for the end of his season. Paddack himself isn’t yet clued in. After each start, the club meets with Paddack and assesses his health and his progress. Presumably, that’s the setting in which he will eventually learn his season is over.

“We didn't really have a specific number [of innings],” Paddack said. “It was just basically about how I was feeling: 'Hey, be honest with us, make sure you feel good.' Well, I feel good.”

“I'll get ready for Milwaukee until they tell me otherwise,” he added.

The Padres aren’t exactly eager to shut Paddack down. He’s been their best starting pitcher this season, with a 3.38 ERA and a 1.00 WHIP. Among rookies with at least 20 starts, Paddack’s ERA is the lowest in franchise history.

On Tuesday, Paddack showcased exactly what makes the Padres believe he’s a future ace. He struck out seven Cubs, while allowing just three hits and a walk. As usual, he relied heavily on his fastball, which he painted on all corners of the zone. Paddack induced 11 whiffs with his changeup, and he even threw 12 curveballs, generating weak contact.

“These past three starts,” Paddack said, “I’ve been back to myself.”

He has offered quite the response to some August struggles. Last month, Paddack allowed six runs and didn’t make it through the third inning in a start against Boston at Petco Park. At the time, there was external chatter about whether it might be prudent for the club to shut him down.

The Padres never seriously considered that. They wanted to see Paddack bounce back, believing he’d be better off for having done so.

“What you want out of all your pitchers is resilience,” said Padres manager Andy Green. “It takes that to be a really good Major League pitcher. He's hit two lulls throughout the season, and he's come roaring back both times. That's got to give him a ton of confidence.”

Is there now a benefit to ending his season on a high note?

“He can have more high notes,” Green answered, knowingly. As he’s done after all of Paddack’s starts recently, the Padres skipper wouldn’t commit to the next one.

Still, it’s fair to wonder what Paddack has left to accomplish this season. The Padres have bigger goals -- most notably a run at contention in 2020.

To that end, they needed a fully healthy, fully built-up Paddack sitting toward the front of their rotation. That meant monitoring him closely throughout 2019, even if it grew frustrating at times.

“You want to turn your horses loose and let them run,” said Green. “But sometimes you've just got to build them up. That's kind of what this season has been about. Next year will be about turning him loose.”

If 2019 was about building Paddack, he’s clearly set quite the foundation.