Two years ago, almost to the day, Chris Paddack became “The Sheriff.”
It was May 7, 2019 at Petco Park. The Padres rookie right-hander threw 7.2 scoreless innings and struck out 11 Mets hitters, including a couple of high-profile punchouts of eventual National League Rookie of the Year Pete Alonso, and outdueled Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom.
Paddack did it with serious Texas heat, 97 MPH fastballs at the top of the strike zone with the kind of late life that elite strikeout pitchers have. He finished his rookie season looking like an ace in the making.
In 2020, that version of Paddack all but disappeared.
He stopped challenging hitters up and got hurt by finding way too much of the strike zone. Part of that was a mechanical issue that gave him more sideways movement than vertical carry on his fastball, which led to a ton of barrels.
The bigger issue was the six inches between his ears.
If he gave up a couple of baserunners Paddack would let innings, and games, get away from him.
“Letting up a 4-spot, five runs. Two-out walks, two-out hits, back-to-back hits, you name it, I’ve experienced it,” says Paddack. “I feel like I’m guilty of, I try and be too perfect, I try and do too much in those situations instead of just trusting my ability. (When I’m) trusting my instinct and my confidence is through the roof, I have success.”
In late April, Paddack went on the 10-day Injured List with an undisclosed medical condition. During that time, he had some long conversations with his brother and confidant Michael. The gist of it was, to paraphrase a well-known baseball movie … don’t think. Just throw.
“Finding whatever it is that works for me and getting back to that Chris Paddack. Stop worrying about being The Sheriff, stop being someone I’m not, and be Chris Paddack,” says Chris Paddack. “I’ve had doubt. There’s been times where you fear the opposing hitter, whatever the situation is, but if you look yourself in the mirror and tell yourself what you’re scared of, you’re going to overcome those fears.”
On Sunday in San Francisco, Paddack returned to the mound and it didn’t take long to face exactly the situation that has gotten him in so much trouble.
3rd inning, runners at the corners, one out, with All-Stars Buster Posey and Brandon Belt due up. Instead of being Paddack’s undoing the moment became his reckoning.
“I told myself to not give in and I’m going to beat these guys with my best pitch: fastball at the top of the zone and just kind of have that edge, that “here it is, hit me” mentality.”
Paddack blew Posey away with a 96 MPH fastball above the strike zone and followed by throwing one at 97 right by Belt. After the last pitch, we saw something we haven’t seen for a while.
A fist pump and a scowl.
The Sheriff was back.
“It’s been a while since I felt that presence back on the mound,” says Paddack.
Manager Jayce Tingler pulled Paddack after that 3rd inning (Chris was on a pitch count after not throwing off a mound in almost two weeks). The Padres already had the best pitching staff in Major League Baseball. If they have their old gunslinger back, this club is only going to get better.
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