SAN DIEGO — Chris Paddack started his path back from a 22-month layoff from Tommy John surgery last April 30th. Less than a year later, Paddack reached the big leagues faster than anyone could have expected.
Paddack, 23, spun five solid innings in the Padres’ 3-1 win over San Francisco Sunday afternoon. His outing featured some of the traits we saw in Lake Elsinore and San Antonio a season ago: impeccable command of the fastball, a ridiculous changeup and a ton of strikeouts. Paddack walked just one and struck out five, ultimately earning a no-decision.
“He was outstanding; I wouldn’t [have] been surprised if he threw a no-hitter,” said Padres’ catcher Austin Hedges, after catching Paddack’s debut.
“He’s incredible — he has such good fastball command. He had command of all three of his pitches. He attacked the zone, got ahead and did what he does.”
Paddack started off the game by retiring Giants center fielder Steven Duggar on a routine pop-up to left on the game’s first pitch. He then retired the next two hitters with ease, sticking with mostly fastballs while mixing in a few changeups.
In the second, Paddack made the heart of the Giants’ order look absolutely silly. He struck out the side in order, punching out Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford and Gerardo Parra in succession. His fastball sat at 92-93 MPH and touched 95 a few times in the frame. His changeup was as good as advertised, as no Giant hitter was able to do anything with Paddack’s best pitch.
After four innings of no-hit ball, the Texan righty ran into some trouble. He allowed a one-out hit to Brandon Crawford to break up the no-no. With two outs, Paddack engaged in epic battle with Pablo Sandoval. After fighting off some tough pitches Sandoval socked a Paddack curveball on the tenth pitch of the at-bat to deep center to give the Giants the 1-0 advantage. Paddack got the next hitter — Giants catcher Erik Kratz — to fly out harmlessly to left.
“I’m gonna lose a little sleep on that one tonight — he beat me with my third pitch,” said Paddack shortly after the game.
“[Sandoval] put a barrel on it. Unfortunately, they scored but we were fortunate enough to win. I feel like I could have got him down off the plate to chase or I could have gone with a change-up. I’ve been on the same page with Hedges since pitch number one — that’s what he wanted to call. I had confidence in it, I thought it was a great pitch and I executed it down but he stuck his bat out there — he’s a large human and has some pop for sure.”
The Padres rallied back, scoring runs in the fifth, seventh and eighth innings to secure the series win against San Francisco. While Paddack did not earn his first Major League win, he praised catcher Austin Hedges for guiding him and the Padres’ young staff to a hot start.
“I’m very blessed to have Austin Hedges as my catcher. He’s done a great job with this younger pitching staff. By showing us the way, teaching us different things, different situations that he sees, some things that we may not see in a hitter. He was also our starting catcher last year, so he’s seen the Giants a lot more than I have, so I trusted his input today.”
As good as Paddack was on the mound, he had an opportunity to help himself at the plate. With the bases loaded in the second inning, Paddack lined what appeared to be an RBI single to right field. However, Giants right fielder Gerardo Parra fielded the ball on one hop and fired in a throw to first base to beat Paddack by a step for a routine 9-3 play to end the inning. It was only Paddack’s third professional at-bat.
“I’m going to hear it from all the guys in here tomorrow that I am going to have to run some sprints because I got thrown out from right field,” laughed Paddack. “But it was awesome — just to get into the box, that was pretty cool.”
The progress of a third pitch
Paddack has been lauded for his fastball-changeup combo since he was acquired by San Diego, but he picked up a curve during his recovery from Tommy John surgery. In looks last year, it had a tendency to be a little loopy but when he missed with location, he missed down.
On Sunday, Paddack only threw one the first time through the order but he started to incorporate it more as the worked his way through the order for the second time.
“It’s there, it’s a weapon,” said Padres manager Andy Green.
“Today, he basically got through the first time with a fastball/change combo; he didn’t really need the [curveball]. There are days where he will use it a lot, I think he just needs to get a feel for the lineup that he is facing and he can drop it when he feels like he needs to. It will be a weapon at any point in time of the count.”
“Even on the [curve] hit from Sandoval was such a good at-bat — not just from Sandoval but from Paddack,’ said Hedges. “He never gave in, he executed a great curveball and [Sandoval] took a good swing. He gave us five good innings and the guys scored a big run.
The exclamation point on an improbable journey
Last May, we talked to Paddack shortly after his High-A debut. Paddack set a lofty goal of reaching the big leagues before the end of the season, which he fell just short of. However, the time he missed and the path to the big leagues has not been lost on the righty.
“Every day I told myself, since when I had surgery what I want this [setback] to come as. Do I want to look at the negative and say ‘why me’ or blame different situations? [Do I] want to let the anger and the negative thoughts get to me?
“That’s where it all started for me — I got to learn how much I love this game being away for 22 months and seeing your teammates execute and have fun in different clubhouses and you’re just kind of stuck in Arizona, but that’s where my family comes into play. They supported me, they loved me, the man upstairs has kept me healthy and I am very blessed and fortunate to be in this situation.”