SAN DIEGO -- The Padres weren't messing around. Chris Paddack had never thrown more than 90 innings in a season in the Minors. So what? Paddack was arguably the Padres’ best starting pitcher, so there was a place for him on the Opening Day roster.
Paddack learned he'd made the rotation while still on the mound before exiting his final Spring Training start, and he quickly rewarded the Padres' faith. He talked a big game and backed it up, bursting onto the scene in April with a high-octane fastball and a fiery personality to match it. After some midseason struggles, Paddack finished the year just as strong, posting a 0.77 ERA over his final four starts.
In mid-September, Paddack was shut down. The Padres had placed strict innings and pitch-count limitations on him in his rookie season. They even optioned him in June for a bit of rest. Next year, Paddack will finally be turned loose.
"Knowing there's no leashes on me -- it's going to be fun," Paddack said.
What went right?
Paddack posted a 3.33 ERA and a sub-1 WHIP, one of the best rookie seasons for a Padres starter in franchise history. But more important than those gaudy numbers was Paddack's health. He missed the entire 2017 season following Tommy John surgery, and he didn’t reach 100 innings in ’18. In retrospect, the club couldn't have handled him any better. Paddack upped his innings above 140 in ‘19, setting him up for a full workload in ‘20.
"I tip my cap to the Padres' front office and the entire organization," Paddack said. "They've done a really good job putting me together over the past two years. It wasn't an easy process. Being such a competitor, it was hard at times. You just want to go out there, pitch every day, [throw a] complete game [shutout]. That's everybody's goal. But they talked to me, and they really explained that for me to have a successful career, these next two years are really crucial."
What went wrong?
It's nitpicking to make too much out of Paddack's struggles, after he made the jump from Double-A to the big leagues. But the Padres envision Paddack as a future ace. So let's nitpick. Most notably: Paddack could use a third pitch. His fastball/changeup combo is borderline elite. But his curveball was wholly mediocre. Opponents batted .267 against the pitch. Also worth nitpicking: Paddack made three starts against the Dodgers and allowed six runs in two of them.
Paddack arrived at Marlins park in July with a chip on his shoulder. He'd been dealt from Miami to San Diego for Fernando Rodney three years prior, and he had a point to make. Paddack made that point in style. The flame-throwing right-hander carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning and struck out eight. The Padres won the trade.
The Padres enter the offseason in search of an ace via trade or free agency. But they might also have one on staff already. If Paddack can take another step forward, it would go a long way toward solidifying the Padres' long-term pitching staff. He's already proven he's capable of growth, responding emphatically to struggles in May and August. Now, with time for self-evaluation in the offseason (and perhaps a chance to hone his curveball), Paddack could emerge as one of the best young arms in baseball.