Padres’ Chris Paddack looks to measure up against Dodgers
Chris Paddack reads books about Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. He listens to podcasts by former Navy SEAL David Goggins. He made Pete Alonso a rival when he had met him once in passing and really liked him.
When that glove is over his face on the mound, he might be yelling at himself about focusing or gently reminding himself how good he is or going through any number of incantations about focusing.
Paddack can make something out of nothing when it comes to finding motivation.
This is something.
“I want to see how my game compares against two MVPs, guys who have been in the playoffs,” Paddack said of 2018 American League MVP Mookie Betts and 2019 National League MVP Cody Bellinger. “This is our best matchup of where we want to be in October.”
The Padres, who lost 9-6 to the Rockies on Sunday to fall to 6-4, host the Dodgers (7-3) the next three nights, and Paddack will start the first of those.
Besides acknowledging that going against the Dodgers is a sort of personal measuring stick, Paddack knows this is the type of game in which an ace takes it on himself to make sure his team has a chance to win.
“I’m excited to be able to pitch against some big-time names,” the 24-year-old Texan with big plans and matching bravado said Saturday. “Being able to go up against them is going to be pretty crucial.”
Clayton Kershaw delivers a solid start and Cody Bellinger homers in the Dodgers’ 3-0 win over Arizona, but Mookie Betts leaves with a finger injury.
The team that has won the past seven NL West titles is so far doing what it normally does, leading the majors with 17 home runs and ranking fifth with a .786 OPS (on-base-plus-slugging percentage).
Paddack would have it no other way.
“Going into it, Will I have a little extra adrenaline? Absolutely,” he said. “Am I scared? No. There’s not a team I’m going to be scared or telling myself I’m not good enough to face this lineup. If anything, it’s the opposite.”
Paddack won a game, lost one and learned lessons in all three of his starts against the Dodgers last season.
Among the seven teams he faced more than once his rookie season, they had the second-highest batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage against Paddack. His 5.65 ERA against them was also the second highest he allowed to any team he faced multiple times. (The Phillies were the only team to fare better.)
His first start against the Dodgers came May 14, eight days after he shut out Alonso and the Mets on one hit over seven innings. Paddack got hit pretty good and acknowledged afterward he was a little too hyped up and a little star-struck.
“I looked at the hitters from the waist up instead of the waist down,” he recalled later. “Big-time names, being a younger guy, having some studs standing in the box, not just one or two guys but the whole lineup, you kind of get a little anxious up there.
His next start at Dodger Stadium, where he faced them all three times, resulted in 5 2/3 shutout innings on July 6.
“Just in the back if my head every time I toed the rubber I told myself who I am,” Paddack said that night. “Just that bulldog mentality. They got me that first outing here. I just wanted to show them that’s not Chris Paddack.”
His final outing against the Dodgers was perhaps the one that stuck with him the most among the three.
It sounds a theme for 2020.
It’s clear from Shohei Ohtani’s velocity alone that the Angels’ Japanese phenom is nowhere close to the same pitcher he was before his 2018 Tommy John surgery.
Paddack was dominant for much of last season. His 0.98 WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched) was fifth best among starters with at least 140 innings. His 3.33 ERA was the third lowest ever by a Padres rookie who threw that many innings.
But he also had a tendency to put together stretches in which he retired five, six, 10 batters in a row and then allowed a hit to lead to a walk and another hit and maybe a homer.
On Aug. 4 in L.A, after a perfect first inning, in which he struck out Alex Verdugo and Corey Seager for the final two outs, Paddack gave up a leadoff homer to Max Muncy in the second inning. A fly out, a walk, a strikeout and a Russell Martin homer followed.
After the Padres scored five runs in the third, Paddack retired the Dodgers in order in the bottom of the third before yielding four runs on a hit batter, two doubles and a single before recording an out in the bottom of the fourth.
“Eliminating the damage, accepting if you let up a couple runs, how can I stop the damage?” Paddack said Saturday of his biggest takeaway from such adversity. “Last year, sometimes I got ahead of myself and let those two-run deficits go into three or four, which got us out of the lead or didn’t keep us in the game long enough to get to the bullpen. I think that something I’ve really learned from last year to this year. Especially my last start, it wasn’t my ‘A’ stuff, but I accepted the fact I had to go out and battle and compete and keep us in the game.”
Paddack did, indeed, grind through five innings without his usual fastball command and a sometimes-leaky change-up in San Francisco on Wednesday, leaving with a 6-2 lead the Padres eventually lost.
Going against the Dodgers will be a different level of challenge.
One he relishes.
“Obviously, when you look at their lineup you see a lot of big-time names,” he said. “Whether that be Max Muncy, who is really hot right now, Cody Bellinger, Mookie. You’ve got (Justin) Turner. The list keeps going on. Just because it’s a big-time lineup and a team we’ve been trying to beat for the past couple years now, we’re not scared. I think it’s the opposite. We’re showing MLB, we’re showing ourselves that this year is our year.
“It’s a tough lineup, if not one of the toughest in baseball. I’ve always used that as energy on my side. I want to dominate against the best. You want to compete against the best. That’s why we play this game. We want to bring up those matchups they talk about. I’m looking forward to it.”
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