MIAMI -- Facing the team that drafted him, Chris Paddack flirted with history on Wednesday night. In the end, he wasn’t perfect. But he showed the Marlins precisely what they’re missing.
The Padres’ rookie right-hander rode a perfect game into the sixth and a no-hitter into the eighth before Starlin Castro ended that bid with a solo shot to open the frame. Paddack was removed two batters later, but his dominant eight-strikeout effort was enough to send the Padres to a 3-2 victory at Marlins Park, snapping their four-game skid.
“After the sixth inning, I was starting to count the outs,” Paddack said. “One mistake, against a good hitter.”
In their 51st season, 8,071 games into their existence, the Friars still don’t have a no-hitter. But they do have Paddack, who -- 16 starts into his career -- seems capable of producing something brilliant every time he takes the hill.
“He's the easiest guy in the world to catch,” said catcher Austin Hedges. “You put your glove there, and he throws it. … He's shown no-hit, perfect-game stuff.”
Added Padres skipper Andy Green: “He was as good as you could be -- and he's the kind of guy who could do that.”
In one of the great heists in recent memory, the Padres acquired Paddack from Miami straight up for veteran reliever Fernando Rodney at the 2016 Trade Deadline. Wednesday marked the first time Paddack has taken the mound at Marlins Park, and he delivered the goods.
“I kind of had a chip on my shoulder coming into the game,” Paddack said. “This was the team that drafted me. This was where it all started.”
When he took the mound in the bottom of the first inning, Paddack etched the number 16 into the dirt on the Marlins Park mound. During his time with the organization, he briefly met Jose Fernandez, so Paddack wanted to pay tribute to the late right-hander.
Paddack then worked 7 2/3 innings, striking out eight and allowing just a run and a hit. He carried a perfect game into the sixth, when shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. threw high to first base on a Cesar Puello chopper. Later in the frame, Paddack surrendered his only walk.
Otherwise, he was borderline untouchable. Paddack threw 94 pitches, and Marlins hitters had nearly as many swinging strikes (15) as balls in play (16). His fastball command was pinpoint, and he used the pitch 60 percent of the time to set up his changeup -- one of the game’s most dominant putaway offerings.
“He was really good today,” Castro said. “He was painting every fastball he threw.”
Pitching coach Darren Balsley, in his 17th season with the club, had an inclination the Padres might be in for something special from the moment Paddack took the bullpen mound. He told Green as much moments before first pitch.
“It was one of the best pregames I've ever seen,” Balsley said. “I even had to slow him down because I thought he was working a little too quickly pregame, throwing a tick too hard. He was locked in.”
The Padres, of course, have been steadfast in their desire to protect Paddack, a budding ace who pitched only 90 innings last season in his return from Tommy John surgery. They've given him at least five days of rest between all of his starts, and he has yet to begin an at-bat beyond his hard 90-pitch limit.
That put Green and the Padres in something of a precarious spot as Paddack approached history Wednesday night.
“The process going through my head was: I'm telling Andy I want the ball,” Paddack said. “I know that I'm on a strict pitch count, and I can't control that. But that's one of the situations I feel like they'd let me go.”
Turns out, maybe they would have. The Padres used the All-Star break to push Paddack to the back end of their rotation, meaning he was pitching Wednesday night on 10 days’ rest.
“If there ever was going to be a day where you gave him extra leash, it's coming off the All-Star break, it's [when he is] pitch efficient from the get-go, it's low stress innings,” Green said. “There was no velo coming off the heater at all. Every indicator you're looking for is lining up. That's probably the day.”
Castro made certain it wouldn’t be the day. But Paddack had retired the next two hitters when Green emerged.
“We've been steadfast in our desire to make sure we put him in a position to be successful for the long haul, not just for this season,” Green said. “It doesn't feel particularly good walking out there taking him out at 94 pitches.”
As Paddack walked off the mound, he was greeted by polite applause from the fans at Marlins Park. Surely, the 23-year-old right-hander envisioned a moment like that on the night he was drafted in 2015.
Strangely enough, he got to experience it as a Padre. And it was almost perfect.