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What's next for Paddack down stretch, beyond?

Rookie right-hander was not given innings limit for 2019
@AJCassavell
September 13, 2019

SAN DIEGO -- Chris Paddack looks as sharp as he ever has. The Padres rookie blanked the Cubs for six innings in a win on Wednesday night, capping a three-start stretch that saw him post a 0.49 ERA with 23 strikeouts over 18 1/3 innings. Paddack started the year strong.

SAN DIEGO -- Chris Paddack looks as sharp as he ever has.

The Padres rookie blanked the Cubs for six innings in a win on Wednesday night, capping a three-start stretch that saw him post a 0.49 ERA with 23 strikeouts over 18 1/3 innings.

Paddack started the year strong. He's finishing it stronger. So what's next for the 23-year-old rookie, who has had his workload strictly monitored in his first big league season? Here's a look at the timetable.

Next week

Paddack will face the Brewers in Milwaukee next week, manager Andy Green confirmed on Friday. After that, it's anyone's guess.

The Padres didn't give Paddack a set innings limit this season. Instead, they began meeting with him between starts in mid-August to assess how he felt and the progress he'd made while determining a short-term plan.

Padres' young rotation geared up for 2020

Paddack's 135 2/3 innings this season are a 50 percent increase over his total from a season ago in the Minors when he was returning from Tommy John surgery. But the Padres believe there’s a benefit to giving him at least one more start.

"He's still in line with the targets we've had from the beginning of the year," Green said. "We're still confident he's strong and feels good. We're comfortable getting him back on the mound and pitching in a road environment against a playoff-type club."

Strangely enough, Paddack's status might play a crucial role in the National League Wild Card race. By beating the Cubs, Paddack dropped them into a tie with the Brewers for the second spot.

"They're not going to get a Wild Card run if we can't," Paddack said after his start Wednesday, and presumably he will carry the same chip on his shoulder into Milwaukee.

Next month

Paddack has spent time peppering veterans about their offseason throwing programs. They've reinforced the importance of time off before building back up to full strength.

"I struggle telling myself that sometimes less is more," Paddack said. "But that's what I need."

Paddack acknowledged the temptation to overprepare. But with a long season ahead -- ideally longer than any baseball season in his life -- he'll need to pace himself.

It's different than Paddack's 2018-19 mindset, when he entered Spring Training fully geared up to win a starting job.

"This year, I wanted to be all-go at the start of Spring Training, because I wanted a spot," Paddack said. "This time, it's, 'Hey, you still have spring. There's still time to build.'"

Paddack will take a month off from throwing before resuming his program sometime in November -- similar to the progression he took last season but slightly less strenuous, he says.

Next year

The leash is off. If Paddack was to again increase his workload by 50 percent next year, that would put him over 200 frames.

The Padres played this season with the goal of Paddack being full-go in 2020. They appear to have accomplished that objective.

"Next year will be about turning him loose," Green said.

That means no more 90-pitch limits. Pitching coach Darren Balsley believes that will free Paddack up to be himself.

"You always want a sense of urgency in a starting pitcher, but when he starts, he knows he has 90 pitches to get it done," Balsley said. “To have the freedom to make pitches and not worry about his pitch count, it might actually help him."

Green noted that the toughest adjustment for Paddack will be pitching on normal four days' rest after a full season of going without fewer than five days. (The Padres employed that strategy as a means of keeping Paddack on the mound into mid-September.)

But Green doesn't foresee any issues with Paddack adjusting to a new in-game workload. That means no more early hooks for Paddack. There's a chance he could develop into a full-blown workhorse in 2020.

"I haven't seen anything in him that tells me he's tiring or incapable of going deeper," Green said. "Usually, his life is still there around that point. You watch other guys that live around that number and you start to see velo drop, arm-slot drop, extension drop, spin drop. All those things go the wrong way.

"You don't really see that with him. So you see strength by the way he's trained himself. The expectation is he'll be completely fine."

Noteworthy

• Infielder Seth Mejias-Brean, an eight-year Minor Leaguer, received his first big league start on Wednesday night, and he notched his first career hit -- an opposite-field single off Cole Hamels.

"I can't really put all the feelings into words right now," Mejias-Brean said. "It felt good off the bat, and to get it off [Hamels], it's pretty special."

• Right-hander David Bednar might be pitching himself into San Diego's bullpen mix for 2020.

"I just came here with expectation to make the most of this opportunity, however it presented itself," said Bednar, a September callup.

Bednar is doing exactly that. He has pitched 4 2/3 frames since his promotion. Bednar has recorded eight strikeouts and allowed just one hit and one walk.

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