San Diego Padres rookie pitcher Chris Paddack got roughed up in his start Tuesday against the Dodgers, needing 92 pitches to get through 4.2 innings, surrendering six runs, and taking the loss. Beyond reinforcing that the Dodgers lineup is a beast—they lead the National League in runs, slugging, and OPS—this was notable for being Paddack’s first lousy outing of the season. Through eight starts, including last night’s clunker, Paddack has a 1.99 ERA, a .750 WHIP, and is allowing an NL-leading 4.566 hits per nine innings pitched. He’s been phenomenal.
The ever confident Paddack, who hasn’t inhaled once since Opening Day due to the constant screaming outflow of steam pouring through his nostrils, intends to pay Tuesday night’s frustration forward to the next team in his warpath:
This is all a lot of fun. You don’t have to root for Paddack—hell, you don’t have to like him at all—to recognize that baseball is more interesting when there are flame-throwing young hot-shot pitchers around, starting feuds with mighty sluggers and setting your popcorn-getting-ready schedule a week in advance. Which is what makes Buster Olney’s Wednesday bit on Paddack a bit of a bummer. The upshot is, the Padres will almost certainly scale Paddack’s appearances way back at some point this season, out of well-reasoned but buzz-killing prudence:
Paddack is 23 years old, and although he was drafted in 2015, he has never pitched more than 90 innings in any professional season. He required Tommy John surgery early in the 2016 season, missed all of 2017, and then worked 52 1/3 innings in Class A last year before adding another 37 2/3 innings in Double-A.
Including his start against the Dodgers on Tuesday night, he has already accumulated 45 1/3 innings this year, with incredible success — just 23 hits allowed, 11 walks and 49 strikeouts, with a 1.99 ERA.
Those numbers are already a little alarming—it’s mid-May and Paddack has already pitched more than half as many innings as he’s thrown across any full season in his life. If he continues at this pace, he will reach his previous high for innings in a season by July. Olney says it’s typical for teams to increase a young pitcher’s innings workload by 40 innings per season, but that would still have Paddack out of San Diego’s rotation before the end of the regular season. With the Padres winning more than they lose, there’s a non-zero chance Paddack’s innings limit could produce a Stephen Strasburg-type situation, where fidelity to a workload management plan keeps a dominant pitcher out of a pennant race. Olney says the Padres “fully intend to protect” Paddack, which for sure means he will not be starting 30 games this season, healthy or not:
Even if the Padres worked at the edges of industry norms, Paddack probably wouldn’t extend much beyond 140 innings or so. That means the Padres’ best starter, and one of the best starters in the NL, could have something in the range of 90 to 100 innings remaining. That’s about 16 starts of about six innings, among San Diego’s remaining 120 games.
The Padres could opt to space out Paddack’s remaining starts. They’ll almost certainly limit his opportunities to pitch beyond the sixth inning. Or, alternately, they could have him only pitch after the sixth inning, by moving him to “a well-defined relief role” for a portion of the season, and then shifting him back to the rotation down the stretch. One way or another, though, the opportunities to watch this thrilling rookie starter, who has hurled his way into the early Cy Young conversation, will be numbered.
In the meantime, Paddack is mowing down the opposition, and his brash commentary gives opposing batters motivation to swing a little more violently, and gives viewers an emotional reason to root specifically for or against him. Rather than lament the reasonable precautions taken by teams to protect the arms of young pitchers, let’s take this for an urgent nudge to treat Paddack’s May and June starts as appointment viewing.