Paddack bounced back from the worst start of the season to help the Padres take down the Giants.
SAN FRANCISCO — August had been the worst month of Chris Paddack’s young career. By the numbers, it still will go down as such. He pitched 24 innings and his opponents scored 20 earned runs. In three of five starts, he failed to complete five frames. He surrendered seven home runs, the same total he gave up across three seasons in the minor leagues.
Contending with a new level of hitter can be challenging enough. Doing so under strict supervision will up the degree of difficulty. So will getting on a plane the day of your start.
Paddack overcame all these factors Thursday night at Oracle Park in his final outing of August. In time, a poor month should fade from memory. What he does the remainder of this season is all that matters, however much season he has left.
“I know soon I’ll probably be getting some news that I don’t want,” Paddack said after the Padres’ 5-3 victory over the San Francisco Giants. “But they haven’t told me yet, so I’m looking forward to my next start.”
His previous performance had been his roughest. Last week at Petco Park, the rookie recorded only seven outs. The Boston Red Sox battered him for six runs on seven hits. His ERA jumped to nearly double what it was in May.
The Giants represent a less formidable obstacle, but that was beside the point. In the parlance of professional sports, there was only so much Paddack could control. So, he channeled his energy into the weight room, into his between-starts bullpen, into recapturing some of the fastball command and changeup action that carried him through the early stages of 2019.
“When you’re around really good athletes, their intent, their focus is great when they’re not in the spotlight,” Padres manager Andy Green said. “I felt this time was as good as I’ve seen it at any point in time.”
The results followed. Paddack went seven innings against the Giants, struck out eight and didn’t issue a walk. He yielded just five hits.
One should have remained an error; a scoring change was made after second baseman Ty France lost a popup in the twilight and shortstop Luis Urías made a last-ditch attempt, unsuccessfully, to catch it. Another came against a changeup that drifted over the middle of the plate; Brandon Belt golfed it into McCovey Cove for San Francisco’s lone run against Paddack.
The right-hander was not all the way back to his April self. He located far more pitches than he missed. But there have been starts during which he was more precise, more ruthlessly efficient. On this night, catcher Austin Hedges had to move his glove more often than he did near the beginning of the season.
That was not unexpected. Paddack has thrown 124 1/3 innings, up from the 90 he compiled in the minor leagues last season. He continues to forge into uncharted territory. There will continue to be mistakes.
He has relied on his two best pitches, and his third remains a project. At times, he has been overly deliberate about peppering the strike zone. Of course, he also has experienced considerable success, especially for a rookie. And he continues to learn.
“You know he’s going to throw strikes,” Hedges said. “But there’s a difference between control and command. When he’s got command, guys don’t touch him. But when you’re kinda just controlling the ball around the zone, that’s when he’s going to get hit. Sometimes it’s tough in this league to throw a lot of strikes because guys know you’re going to be in the zone.
“I think he’s learning how to throw pitches out of the zone on purpose to be able to make guys uncomfortable, to move the ball around so he can get them out his way.”
Paddack also has learned about things he cannot control. On Wednesday night, the Padres played the Dodgers and lost an extra-inning game. When it was over, there was not enough time to beat curfew at the San Diego International Airport.
The Padres remained at home overnight and took a late-morning flight to San Francisco. They arrived at their hotel several hours before the series opener here. Paddack had not flown ahead of the team. The brevity of the itinerary did not warrant it.
“Last night, I was pretty frustrated, honestly,” Paddack said. “I was like, ‘Man, this is going to throw me off a little bit.’ But I accepted it and moved on. I was like, ‘I’m not going to let this ruin a good outing.’”
Paddack did not allow a baserunner until the bottom of the fourth, when Belt crushed the misplaced changeup. Paddack demonstrated mettle in the fifth, when the Giants put runners on the corners with one out. He landed a first-pitch curveball for a strike, then fired a pair of fastballs by Austin Slater. Against Mike Yastrzemski, he got ahead with consecutive changeups before inducing an inning-ending fly out.
“That really showed me something,” Hedges said. “Not that he’s ever not intense out there, but obviously after his last outing — not just to prove to everybody, but to prove to himself, ‘I’m going to answer, I’m going to come back and show what I’ve got’ — it was very impressive.”
Paddack’s start ended after 92 pitches. He has not gone above 97 at any point in this, his second season back from Tommy John surgery. He is not expected to surpass 150 innings. It is doubtful that he even reaches that point.
But next year, the Padres could use 180 or so innings. There is still work to do in the run-up. What Paddack does the remainder of this season is vital.
“He knows he’s not a finished product. He knows there’s more work ahead,” Green said. “We expect him to have a great finish. We expect a lot more outings like this one for the rest of this year.”
His next start presumably will come in Arizona. Then, he could return home to face the Chicago Cubs. Another potential wild-card team, the Milwaukee Brewers, lurks in the distance.
There might not be even that much leash. Much of it will depend on Paddack. His August is over. September awaits.
“You want to have some success going into the offseason, having that confidence, knowing that you finished the year strong and knowing that you left it all out on the field,” Paddack said. “I’m glad I bounced back. I was very proud of myself, just being able to turn the page.”