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Paddack lives up to hype in MLB debut

@AJCassavell
March 31, 2019

SAN DIEGO -- Chris Paddack arrived at Petco Park on Sunday morning in a black suit with a black shirt. To go along with the theme, he rocked dark shades and a black cowboy hat, but he punctuated the outfit with a flashy pink tie. It was an ensemble worthy

SAN DIEGO -- Chris Paddack arrived at Petco Park on Sunday morning in a black suit with a black shirt. To go along with the theme, he rocked dark shades and a black cowboy hat, but he punctuated the outfit with a flashy pink tie.

It was an ensemble worthy of Paddack’s long-anticipated big league debut. The hype surrounding his first career start on Sunday was enormous in San Diego.

Somehow, the 23-year-old right-hander managed to live up to it -- both the hype, and the getup.

Paddack was excellent over five innings in a 3-1 victory over the Giants on Sunday, allowing just one run on two hits while striking out seven. He was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the fifth after 79 pitches. Then the Padres’ offense went to work.

Eric Hosmer tied the game with a fifth-inning single. Manny Machado gave the Padres the lead with a seventh-inning forceout, his first RBI for his new club. Austin Hedges tacked on an insurance run with a single in the eighth. The bullpen made certain Paddack’s effort held up, and the Padres won their season-opening series for the first time since 2011.

“It was a special moment,” Paddack said. “I’ve worked my whole life for this.”

MLB Pipeline's No. 33 overall prospect, Paddack burst into the national consciousness with an incredible spring. He posted a 1.76 ERA and a 38 percent strikeout rate. Padres fans have long known what Paddack is capable of. He pitched 90 Minor League innings last year in his return from Tommy John surgery. He struck out 120 hitters and walked eight.

Sure looks like that dominance might translate to the big leagues. Paddack retired each of the first 10 hitters he faced, including six via strikeout. Asked if he could have envisioned such a strong start, Paddack went a bit further.

“I had envisioned retiring the first 27,” he said.

Paddack clarified the comment so as to avoid coming across as arrogant. It’s just the honest mindset he takes into every start.

Still, the way he pitched early in Sunday’s game, it seemed like a distinct possibility.

“I wouldn't have been shocked if he threw a no-hitter today,” said Hedges, the catcher who recently ordered some cowboy hats online and wore one pregame on Sunday. “He was incredible.”

Clearly, Paddack has a flair for the dramatic. He has worn suits to the ballpark for his starts over the past few seasons. When he fanned Gerardo Parra to end the second, he hopped off the mound and pumped his fist. When Hedges gunned Joe Panik for a strike-him-out-throw-him-out double play in the fourth, Paddack let loose a yell as he jogged toward the dugout. A lively Petco Park responded in kind.

In the fifth, Paddack finally ran into trouble. Brandon Crawford swatted a single into left field, the Giants' first hit of the day. Then, Pablo Sandoval worked a tiresome at-bat in which he fouled off six consecutive 0-2 pitches. Paddack’s 10th offering was a curveball, and Sandoval sent a rocket off the center-field wall. Crawford scampered home to put the Giants on top, 1-0.

“I’m going to lose some sleep on that one tonight,” Paddack said. “He beat me on my third pitch.”

Thing is, it was a pretty good pitch, just below the knees on the outside corner. Paddack retired the next batter, Erik Kratz, to end his day.

“There's nothing else you can ask from him,” said manager Andy Green.

Well, maybe there’s one thing…

Keep the ball? Not so fast

Strangely enough, Paddack’s first hiccup came on the basepaths. In the bottom of the second inning, the Giants opted to walk Hedges to face Paddack with the bases loaded. It was a sensible move on the part of Giants skipper Bruce Bochy, but it nearly backfired.

Paddack ripped a line drive into right field on one hop to Parra. The right fielder came up throwing and nailed Paddack at first base. Inning over, no hit, no RBI.

“It would’ve been better, first big league at-bat, to get a ribbie, go-ahead run,” Paddack said. “I got thrown out. All the guys will give me a hard time about that tomorrow. I’m sure it’ll be up on all the screens tomorrow when I walk in. But that’s just the chemistry of this clubhouse."

The Padres instruct their pitchers to run hard to first base -- but not too hard. They’ll take a couple outs here and there if it means they can avoid an injury setback. Paddack appeared to be running hard out of the box, but he acknowledged that it probably wasn’t 100 percent.

In any case, Paddack needed to bounce back quickly. In a scoreless game, he went straight back to the mound -- and he retired the side in order.

“I was preparing to have to go out and talk to him at some point if he got a little rattled and started missing his spots,” Hedges said. “That's on me for underestimating Chris Paddack. He rises to the occasion when he gets a little [ticked] off. He impressed me right there. He's impressed me every single time he's pitched.”

Manny's first RBI

Bochy’s decision to walk Hedges in the second made perfect sense. But walking Hosmer in the seventh was something of a head-scratcher. It loaded the bases for Machado, and Bochy summoned righty Sam Dyson from the ’pen.

Dyson, for the most part, did his job. Machado bounced to short. But he legged out the potential double-play ball. Hunter Renfroe scored in the process, putting the Padres on top.

“That’s just one of those situations where I guarantee you Boch wasn’t picking the hitter he wanted to face,” Green said. “He was picking the situation -- a bases-loaded, double-play type situation.”

Tidbits

• Hedges threw out two Giants baserunners at second -- Panik in the fourth on his steal attempt, and Brandon Belt in the seventh when he tried to advance on a wild pitch. The five-year veteran has always been known for his defense, but he brought the lumber on Sunday, too, going 2-for-3 with a walk.

• Fernando Tatis Jr. made an excellent sliding stop to rob Kratz of a hit in the third inning. Just one top prospect helping out another.

“It’s exciting, man,” Tatis said. “When you see a guy pitching like that on the mound, you want to play as good as you possibly can behind him.”

• Wil Myers stayed hot at the plate, going 2-for-3 with a walk. But he suffered a mental lapse on the bases and was doubled off in the fourth inning. Myers was running with the pitch when Manuel Margot hit a routine fly ball to right field. He crossed second base, but never touched it on his way back to first. The Giants appealed, and Myers was out.

• Only two pitchers in Padres history have recorded more than Paddack’s seven strikeouts in their debuts. Dinelson Lamet had eight in 2017, and Bob Shirley recorded 11 in 1977.

AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.