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Padres set Paddack loose for Opening Day

@AJCassavell
July 20, 2020

SAN DIEGO -- Roughly four years ago, a newly acquired Padres prospect named Chris Paddack suffered a major setback in his burgeoning baseball career. Shortly after his arrival in a trade with the Marlins, Paddack tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow and would require Tommy John surgery.

SAN DIEGO -- Roughly four years ago, a newly acquired Padres prospect named Chris Paddack suffered a major setback in his burgeoning baseball career. Shortly after his arrival in a trade with the Marlins, Paddack tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow and would require Tommy John surgery.

As Paddack set about his self-described "relentless" recovery, this was the moment he envisioned.

On Friday against the D-backs, the reins will finally be off. Paddack is set to lead the Padres’ rotation in 2020, and on Monday, he was named the team’s Opening Day starter. He got the news in a meeting with manager Jayce Tingler on Monday morning.

"I had chills running down my arms," Paddack said. "I took a deep breath and really reflected on all my hard work paying off ever since surgery. This is something that's been a goal of mine ever since I picked up a baseball."

Paddack is coming off one of the most successful rookie pitching campaigns in Padres history. But even while he posted a 3.33 ERA with a 0.98 WHIP across 26 starts, the fiery right-hander was limited by workload restrictions designed to get the most out of him in 2020 and beyond.

As of Friday, the limitations will be off the 24-year-old, who arrives on his start days wearing a full suit and cowboy boots. For the first time in 2020, Paddack will arrive at Petco Park "suited and booted" when he faces Madison Bumgarner and the D-backs at 6:10 p.m. PT.

"He's a guy everyone looked up to as a kid, including myself," Paddack said of Bumgarner. "He's one of the greatest to ever pitch. ... Being able to go up against him, it's definitely a privilege. It's going to be a little cowboy showdown on Friday night."

It'll also be an Opening Day start unlike any other, played without fans amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Said Paddack: "I'll use my imagination and hear the 55,000 people cheering my name."

Glaringly absent will be Paddack's family -- particularly his brother, Michael, who has become a staple at Paddack's starts. If Chris is known for his fiery demeanor on the mound, evidently it runs in the family, because Michael offers just about the same level of intensity from the stands.

But Paddack was quick to note that he doesn't need family in the stands to feel their support. They'll be hosting a watch party in his native Texas, as he'll becomes the fourth-youngest Opening Day starter in Padres history.

Paddack said he's been dreaming of an Opening Day start at Petco Park since his first visit to the East Village. On the walkway from the player parking lot to the home clubhouse, Opening Day lineups from every season in Padres history adorn the wall.

"It's an honor to be on one of those," Paddack said.

Paddack said he's physically built up to where he would otherwise have been on a normal Opening Day. He threw six innings in his final intrasquad start on Saturday.

"I'm ready to go," Paddack said. "I'll keep it short and sweet."

Questions at the back end
Following Paddack in the rotation will be Dinelson Lamet on Saturday and Garrett Richards on Sunday. The Padres had lined up that right-handed trio to start the first three games since the beginning of Summer Camp. But evidently, it wasn't quite a foregone conclusion.

"We kicked some ideas around," Tingler said. "Should we split those guys up? Do we save bullpen arms if we split those guys up? At the end of the day, we just stopped thinking, just said, 'They've been our three best, and we're going to put them up front with the idea that -- bearing good health and good luck -- they're going to have an opportunity to make more starts for us.'”

Tingler was quick to say that both Lamet and Richards have pitched like Opening Day starters in camp. But Paddack was always the likely choice, and the ordering of the team's first three starters is not a surprise in the slightest. The team's most pressing rotation questions come at the back end.

"We're still working what we're going to do in the 4-5 slots right now," Tingler said.

Right-hander Zach Davies will take the ball for the team's final intrasquad game on Tuesday, potentially lining him up to start Game 4.

Both Joey Lucchesi and Cal Quantrill will face the Angels in Anaheim on Wednesday night. They're the lead candidates for the No. 5 spot in the rotation. But it's also possible that the Padres could get creative at the back end.

On the Hill
Left-hander Tim Hill, who arrived from Kansas City via trade on Thursday night, debuted at Padres camp and threw his first bullpen session on Sunday. Tingler said he expects Hill to be ready for Opening Day, and Hill will pitch in Tuesday night's intrasquad game.

"After he does that, we'll start talking roles -- not just with him, but I'd like to get all the bullpen guys and be as clear as we can on roles with the idea that with 60 games, it's going to be a little bit different," Tingler said. "We've all got to be a little bit flexible."

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