Building off bullpen stint in ’23, Paddack eyes return to rotation

February 20th, 2024

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- has always approached this game with a quiet, inward-facing intensity that has been evident to those who have been around him -- whether in the same clubhouse or across the painted lines -- and as he prepares for his first meaningful season since 2021, that much remains.

But the Paddack who walked into the Hammond Stadium clubhouse this spring following recovery from a second Tommy John surgery and a formative experience in the Twins’ postseason bullpen is talking about different ways to mentally approach his role as a pitcher and as a presence, both on and off the mound.

“He's just turned into a grown-ass man, in all aspects,” said bench coach Jayce Tingler, who also managed Paddack in San Diego.

The Twins are going to count on Paddack heavily in the rotation as he builds up to what he hopes will be a 140-160 inning workload following a short but eye-popping cameo in the bullpen last fall that gave the organization faith in the bounceback of his stuff and primed him for a full offseason of preparation to start.

Paddack has often turned inward and “bottled stuff up,” he says, in his pursuit of perfection and success. Before this season started, he vowed to himself and to those closest to him that he’d try to be more present in the moment in the clubhouse, around the teammates he grew to appreciate so much last year.

“I don't want to fall in that hole,” Paddack said. “I fell in it before, got traded over here, and it [has] changed my career. I love this group, love this organization. So just challenging myself to be present in the moment, be the same guy every day. Take off my headphones on game day and talk to my teammates a little more and not be mentally drained or exhausted before I toe that rubber every fifth or sixth day.”

He hopes to be an approachable resource for younger teammates, as he was for Twins No. 18 prospect Matt Canterino as they recovered from Tommy John together last summer. He hopes to lean more on Pablo López, whose routine he admires. He’s challenging himself to lean more on his pitching coaches and educate himself on the available technology and data.

It helped in that regard that his experience in the bullpen last year was a big eye-opener for him.

“Those guys are built different out there,” Paddack said. “It really did change my career in the best way possible.”

Paddack said that he learned from the experience of not knowing who he’d face or when he’d face them, and having to trust in his best stuff without “saving” pitches. That all-out mindset will work well in tandem with whatever workload restrictions are in play, with Paddack noting that he’s open to however the Twins want to pull back on his innings to keep him in shape for October baseball.

“I think when he was in the ‘pen, he learned that bulldog mentality -- not that he didn’t already have that -- but just another extreme of that,” catcher Ryan Jeffers said. “I’m really excited to see how that translates to him being back in the starting rotation.”

At the same time, that bulldog mentality also involves a different approach at the at-bat level. He has always tried to pound the strike zone and overpower hitters; maybe, instead, he’ll try to expand the zone in certain situations, aiming for better outcomes in two-strike counts, with help from a new cutter-slider-type pitch he’s developing this spring.

“It's taken me into my sixth season to accept that and not overly compete with myself,” Paddack said. “I will always have that ... mentality [of] being that bulldog, being that vicious guy out there competing, but also making sure I'm present in the moment. ‘What is the situation? What is the hitter telling me?’”

Paddack has learned a lot from his time away from the team, watching the Twins compete from afar on his iPad from his fishing boat in Florida during his rehab before he rejoined the team, and, this year, came into camp as a key part of the plan to replace the lost production of Sonny Gray.

He’s eager to put all the pieces together.

“He's had to sit back and watch,” Tingler said. “He's been around a lot of really good baseball people, a lot of baseball minds to pick brains. I think he's just starting to put all those things together.”