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Paddack, Lucchesi among Opening Day options

@AJCassavell
March 15, 2019

PEORIA, Ariz. -- In each of his first three seasons as Padres manager, Andy Green sat down with his coaching staff early in spring and meticulously mapped a plan for his Opening Day starter. The idea was to get that starter into an every-five-days progression before his first outing of

PEORIA, Ariz. -- In each of his first three seasons as Padres manager, Andy Green sat down with his coaching staff early in spring and meticulously mapped a plan for his Opening Day starter. The idea was to get that starter into an every-five-days progression before his first outing of the regular season.

In 2016 it was Tyson Ross. In '17, it was Jhoulys Chacin. Last year, it was Clayton Richard.

This year, there is no such plan.

As things stand, highly touted rookie Chris Paddack would start March 28 against the Giants if he were to continue pitching every fifth day. But there was never a plan to line Paddack up for that start, the way Ross, Chacin and Richard were.

"That doesn't apply this Spring Training at all," Green said. "In the past, we have set up a rotation like that. We came into this one so wide open that [Joey] Lucchesi, [Eric] Lauer and [Matt] Strahm are all pitching on the same day right now. ... We have a lot of unwinding to do here in the next few weeks to line things up the way we want it. I would not encourage reading into anything based on what days guys are throwing right now."

That isn't bluster. Multiple sources confirmed that the Padres entered camp without set pitching plans for their first regular-season trip through the rotation.

But as camp has progressed, the Opening Day options have become clearer, and it might be a two-horse race between Joey Lucchesi and Paddack. The Padres maintain it's an open competition, but the spring progressions of Lucchesi and Paddack tell another story.

Lucchesi threw four innings in a "B" game against the White Sox on Friday afternoon, marking the second time he'd hit four innings. He increased his pitch count, too. In the 13 days before Opening Day, there's time for Lucchesi to pitch a five- or six-inning game before dialing it back for one more live setting of an inning or two.

Paddack, meanwhile, has also reached four innings twice, setting him up for his next start to hit the five- or six-inning threshold that the Padres are comfortable with. Then, he'd presumably have his workload limited in his final start (which is the general expectation in spring progressions).

Among the rest of the Padres' legitimate rotation options, none are quite so far along. Logan Allen, Jacob Nix and Robbie Erlin haven't gotten above three innings. They can almost certainly be ruled out.

Eric Lauer and Matt Strahm might have a chance, and both were scheduled to throw four innings Friday against the Brewers. But Lauer has worked mostly on back fields, and Friday marked his first time reaching four innings. For Strahm, it was his first official start of the spring.

Green was quick to note that he might be cautious with his starters in their first regular-season games. That means Padres pitchers might not be fully built up to work deep into a game in week one. Theoretically, that puts Lauer and Strahm into the discussion.

"Anything's possible right now," Green said. "I would just simply say I wouldn't read into what days guys are throwing."

But if it's Lucchesi vs. Paddack for Opening Day, there are reasons for both to get the ball.

Lucchesi is the Padres’ best returning starter from last year. Plus, he's stretched out for a full season's worth of innings, unlike the rookie Paddack who will be limited to approximately 130. By pushing Paddack to day two, he'd still make his first two starts at home, but he'd also be set up for an extra off-day or two by the end of April. (If they were to push him to fourth or fifth in the rotation, Paddack would have an extra day between his first and second starts.)

That said, a Paddack Opening Day start requires the least amount of tinkering. He's also been the team's best pitcher this spring with 20 strikeouts in 12 2/3 innings and a 2.13 ERA. There's a historic aspect to such a decision. He'd become just the fifth pitcher in history to debut as a starter in his team's first game.

If, indeed, it's either Lucchesi or Paddack, it's clear neither would shy from the occasion.

"Of course, I'd want the ball," Lucchesi said. "It's on my bucket list. It's one of my dreams."

"March 28, against the Giants, [Madison] Bumgarner -- that would be something special," Paddack said. "I've dreamed about that as a kid."

Chances are, one of those Opening Day dreams will be realized in the next two weeks.

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