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Paddack: 'You're looking right at the lion'

@AJCassavell
February 13, 2020

PEORIA, Ariz. -- As if staring down Chris Paddack weren't intimidating enough. Now, when the Padres right-hander is in the stretch, opponents will be looking directly into the eyes of a lion. A tattoo of a lion, to be more precise. The entirety of Paddack's left forearm is now inked

PEORIA, Ariz. -- As if staring down Chris Paddack weren't intimidating enough. Now, when the Padres right-hander is in the stretch, opponents will be looking directly into the eyes of a lion.

A tattoo of a lion, to be more precise. The entirety of Paddack's left forearm is now inked with a maned lion featuring an outline of Paddack's native Texas under its chin.

"When I'm in the stretch, you're looking right at the lion," Paddack said. "I've drawn this up for about a year now, finally got the guts to go get it."

Paddack had the tattoo done on Monday, and he was back on the mound three days later for his first formal bullpen session of Spring Training. Of course, Paddack has spent the past couple weeks at the Peoria Sports Complex anyway, and he reckoned that Thursday's throwing session was his eighth of the spring already.

It's a discernably different season for Paddack, who is building up to a regular big league workload. Although he made the Opening Day roster last season, Paddack was strictly monitored throughout the year. He made only 26 starts and was shut down after 140 2/3 innings.

Now 3 1/2 years removed from Tommy John surgery, the reins are finally off Paddack. Even the thought of being able to pitch without restrictions brings a huge smile to his face.

"I'm free," he said. "I get to go out there and pitch every five days and show the world who Chris Paddack really is."

Paddack is coming off one of the most successful rookie seasons for a Padres pitcher in franchise history. He posted a 3.33 ERA with a sub-1 WHIP while striking out 9.8 hitters per nine innings.

Still, Paddack is looking to take another step forward in 2020. He's honed his curveball, which he says is now "the third pitch" to complement his fastball/changeup mix.

He's also set his sights on starting Opening Day against the Rockies next month. In a mostly set rotation, Paddack is the early favorite for that role.

Paddack had been vocal about his desire to start Opening Day in the past. But on Thursday, he indicated that he wasn't interested in looking so far ahead. Plus, Paddack added, he thinks the Padres have a handful of guys who deserve the nod. Then, Paddack paused for a moment.

"Don't get me wrong," he added. "March 26 is my goal for sure."

Yates unconcerned with contract situation
When Kirby Yates and the Padres parted ways last season, both sides seemed optimistic about the chances for a contract extension. Yates had established himself as arguably the best relief pitcher in baseball, and the Padres were building toward a run at contention in 2020 and beyond.

On Thursday, however, Yates formally began his Spring Training. There's no such extension in place, and he's slated to become a free agent after the season.

Yates was asked whether he's concerned about the status of his contract on Thursday -- the first workout day for pitchers and catchers at the Peoria Sports Complex.

"Not really," Yates said. "My number one focus is to do whatever I can to help us win. It's not about me. It's about coming in here, helping 25 other guys and doing my part to help us win."

Yates has remained mostly quiet about the possibility of an extension, other than to say that he'd be open to it. The 32-year-old right-hander turned his career around in San Diego, and he's clearly fond of the city and the organization.

But if Yates continues his recent dominance, he'd be worth an awful lot of money in free agency next offseason. He's coming off a season in which he posted a 1.19 ERA with a Major League-leading 41 saves and an absurd 15 strikeouts per nine innings. Not that he's too concerned with those numbers right now.

"Last year was a great year," Yates said. "But last year's over. We've got another year ahead of us, and I still need to be good. That's my focus. I don't change the way that I approach this year. It's: Go out there and do the job."

Pagán reports; Padres eye lockdown bullpen
A week ago, right-hander Emilio Pagán was preparing for Spring Training at Rays camp. On Saturday, he learned he would be making a cross-country flight instead.

Nonetheless, the newest Padres reliever reported to big league camp on Wednesday and took part in the team's first workout Thursday, where he threw his first bullpen session of the spring.

By now, Pagán is used to being traded, albeit never this late in the offseason. He will be pitching for his fourth team in as many seasons this year.

"As a kid, I always admired the guys that stayed on one team for their whole career," Pagán quipped. “Obviously, I haven't been able to do it. But I've learned it's part of the game, part of the business."

More than anything, the trade spoke to how greatly the Padres valued Pagán. They already have a loaded bullpen. Then they added a righty who posted a 2.31 ERA with a 0.83 WHIP last season.

"I always believed that I could be successful at this level," Pagán said. "But I proved to myself that I could do it on a consistent basis [last year]."

Padres manager Jayce Tingler wouldn't speculate on potential roles for his relievers. But the Padres clearly boast one of the deepest bullpens in the sport, and that should make Tingler's job a bit easier.

"It gives us an opportunity, when all cylinders are clicking, to have maybe two or three winning combinations," Tingler said.

Just how good can this bullpen be?

"It's, arguably, the best in the league, but first we all have to go out and do our part," Yates said. "In theory, if we get leads, we should win games."

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