SAN DIEGO -- He’s only made six big league starts, but rookie right-hander Chris Paddack probably already qualifies as the Padres' ace. He certainly isn’t the 200-inning workhorse type, however. At least not yet.
Paddack is coming off a 90-inning season in the Minors last year after missing the 2017 campaign due to Tommy John surgery. If San Diego’s hot start turns into a late-season playoff push, its plans for Paddack down the stretch will become one of the summer's biggest storylines.
Paddack's agent Scott Boras told MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi that he expects Paddack's innings to be "managed" later in the season. That runs in line with the Padres' stated plans for Paddack. The team hasn't divulged much information about how it will do so. But it's pretty clear the Padres will watch and manipulate Paddack's workload.
Actually, they already are. On multiple occasions this season, the Padres have shuffled their rotation to allow for Paddack -- and fellow starter Matt Strahm, who had 2017 knee surgery -- to receive extra rest. Neither of those two has pitched on the standard four days' rest all season.
Any mention of Boras clients with innings limits instantly calls to mind the two most famous such situations -- Stephen Strasburg in 2012 and Matt Harvey in '15. Both also had recent Tommy John surgery. Strasburg was shut down early and missed the postseason. Harvey, after much fanfare, kept pitching well past the Mets’ limits.
The Padres' plan for Paddack is notably different for a number of reasons -- the most important being the way the club will monitor his innings. He's on pace for 167 right now, and he almost certainly won't get there. That doesn't necessarily mean he'll be shut down.
"The intent," said manager Andy Green, "is to keep Chris pitching on the mound in meaningful games as long as possible."
To that extent, the Padres mapped out a plan for Paddack during the offseason. Thus far, they haven't deviated. They've used off-days to give him extra rest. When there aren't any off-days, they've called up prospects for spot starts. Right now, in a stretch of 13 games in 13 days, Cal Quantrill is with the Padres for at least two starts, giving them a temporary six-man rotation.
But what happens if the season changes things? What happens if the Padres find themselves in playoff contention? They're off to their best start in nine years, and Paddack has played no small part -- with a 1.91 ERA that ranks fourth in the Majors and a .126 batting-average against that ranks first.
"It's mapped out," Green said. "It's not on the fly. But it's mapped out with the intention for adjustments, as well. So to sit here and walk through exactly what we think is going to happen would be foolish."
The Padres should get a boon later this summer when Dinelson Lamet returns from his Tommy John surgery. Garrett Richards’ return isn’t off the table either. And perhaps, if the Padres remain contenders a little while longer, they re-explore the option of adding free-agent Dallas Keuchel or trading for a big-name starter.
All of those additions would ease the burden on Paddack, who almost certainly won’t make every scheduled start. The Padres will use the All-Star break to manipulate their rotation. They’ll do the same when they have multiple off-days in a short stretch -- like, say, before and after next weekend's series against the Rockies, or next month against the Pirates and Orioles. In those cases, they might skip Paddack’s turn entirely.
San Diego has also kept Paddack on a strict pitch count in his starts. He's yet to eclipse 90 (and he's still managed quality starts his last three times out).
"I just control what I can control," Paddack said. "When I get the chance to get the ball, I just go out there and perform -- whether it's five innings or seven innings or whatever it is. They haven't told me a certain number. I think I'm surprising them that I'm going six, seven innings every time."
Perhaps that's the most important piece of this puzzle. Paddack is very clearly on board with whatever the Padres throw his way.
"That's the big picture," he said. "That's where I respect the Padres. I know they're not looking at just this year. They're looking at the next 10 years. ... I'm gradually going to grow each year. Last year I threw 90 innings. This year my goal is anywhere from 130 to 150. But I don't know what they're going to do."
A year ago, Paddack was shut down in late August. Then, he watched from the sideline as Double-A San Antonio made a push for the playoffs, winning its division before ultimately losing in the finals. Paddack hated the experience. He also understood it.
"You want to go out there, compete every fifth day and give your team a chance to win, so it can be difficult mentally," Paddack said. "But last year, I learned to eliminate all that and just control what I can control.
"Sitting out last year during playoffs was mentally pretty tough. You worked your [butt] off all season to get to that point and then you watch your teammates [in the playoffs]. But we've got a long season ahead of us here. My biggest goal right now is just to continue to stay healthy, show 'em that I'm ready to go."