During their three-month break, the Padres tried to keep themselves in game shape as best they could, but there’s simply no re-creating the physical rigors of a real baseball game.
That is especially true for starting pitchers. By July, they’re usually reaching the 90-inning mark and fully capable of throwing a complete game. With just three weeks to build on what they hopefully maintained when spring training was stopped in March, we probably aren’t going to see many long outings when the season finally starts.
“We can probably expect a lot of bullpenning throughout the industry,” Padres manager Jayce Tingler said. “I think it’s safe to say that most teams’ starting pitching, it’s going to take a little bit longer to start getting into those seventh and eighth innings, so I’d expect a lot of teams to maybe carry extra pitching for those extra spots at least the first two weeks [when MLB teams can have 30 men on their active rosters].”
Right-hander Chris Paddack was looking forward to a full season with no restrictions. His rookie year was cut short out of concern about overworking his arm after elbow reconstruction surgery. Now, he and the rest of the staff are right back to careful inning counts.
“My next start -- my next outing here in San Diego -- will be about four innings,” Paddack said of his progression. “I’ll probably build up to five or six innings, come opening weekend.”
To help accelerate the preparation process, the Padres have been creating as close to a regular-season atmosphere as possible.
“Being away from the game for three months, it can be a little challenging to get a little pep in your step and get back into learning how to pitch,” Paddack said. “You can go out there and throw, but you’ve gotta learn how to pitch again.”
That’s where guys like Manny Machado come in. One of the most dangerous hitters in the game, Machado has been taking live at-bats against Paddack and the rest of the staff.
“I faced him last outing," Paddack said. "I think getting feedback from one of our top guys is very crucial. If he beats you, it doesn’t matter right now, so being able to pick his brain as much as I can [is great].”
Machado and the rest of the Padres hitters are sharing information with pitchers that they usually guard as state secrets … and vice-versa.
“We’re going to be able to give them feedback on things,” Machado said. “You know, 'Hey, your pitch is moving this way,' or, 'Why did you try doing this in a certain situation?' I think this is a unique spot where you can kind of help each other out.”
“My biggest goal when I set foot on the mound is to give them a good look, as well,” Paddack said. “I think if we can hold each other accountable, then at the end of the day, we’re going to be ready for July 24.”
The team that best figures out how to navigate this unprecedented season is likely the one that will be left standing in October, so right now they’re going to try … and share … pretty much anything.