By Pat Turner
Chris Paddack has made giant strides this season.
After missing the 2017 season following Tommy John surgery, the righthander from Cedar Park got back on track with an impressive showing at Single-A Lake Elsinore where he was a California League All-Star selection while compiling a 4-1 record with a 2.24 ERA.
Now, Paddack is looking to carry that success at Double-A. That quest began Saturday as he made his debut with a one-hitter through six innings in guiding the Missions to a 7-2 victory over Arkansas at Wolff Stadium.
Pitching in San Antonio was on his to do list this season. After all, being less than two hours from his home, gives family and friends better opportunities see him pitch regularly. They took advantage of the situation Saturday as between 60-80 followers were on hand, some even wearing Paddack Fan Club shirts, to see something special unfold.
“I was so happy to be here,” said Paddack, who was obtained by the San Diego Padres in a trade with Miami during the 2016 season. “The adrenaline took over. It was my first time to pitch here and being able to pitch in front of my family and friends was a blessing. We’ve been waiting for this moment a long time.”
Paddack, who struck out five and walked one, had a couple of obstacles to deal with during his debut. The biggest challenge was testing his stuff against Double-A hitters. Prior to throwing his first pitch, he had to deal with an hour-long rain delay.
That proved to be a blessing in disguise.
“The rain kinda threw my routine off a bit, but it helped,” Paddack said. “I gathered myself, stuck to my routine and didn’t get ahead of myself. I had 20 or 30 extra minutes to breathe. It helped my nerves, because the nerves were there. It calmed me down.”
Paddack retired the Travelers in order in the first inning but gave up a lead-off solo home run to Joey Curletta in the second. He shrugged off the mistake and finished the frame strongly, striking the final two batters.
Paddack got stronger. Following the home run in the second, Arkansas’ only baserunner came on a walk in the fourth. Paddack got rid of the baserunner by turning a grounder back to the mound into a double play.
Along the way, Paddack received quality defensive support, including Josh Naylor’s running catch at the left-field wall and sharp stops by Ty France at third and Matt Batten at short.
After Paddack left, Erik Johnson tossed two perfect innings with three strikeouts.
Gerardo Reyes had trouble in the ninth after loading the bases with one out, but the Travs only pushed across a run.
The Missions did their part with the bats.
After Paddack gave up the run in the first, the Missions provided him a 5-1 advantage in the bottom half.
With one out, Travelers starter Max Povse (4-3) hit Nick Schulz. Webster Rivas planted a single into right, sending Schulz to third.
Peter Van Gansen brought home the tying run with a bunt single and Batten drew a walk before Rivas scored on a wild pitch, Povse’s second of the inning. After a walk to Naylor filled the bases, France drilled a shot past a driving right fielder Eric Filia that plated all three baserunners.
“It was (Paddack’s) first start and we were trying to get him some run support,” France said. “
He did a great job and we were just trying to do our job. I was looking for something good to hit when I came up. I was able to get a good pitch. It actually got in on me a little bit and I fought it off. I was able to put it in play.
“I think (five runs) helped his nerves. He dominated after that. It was fun to watch.”
The Missions struck for a run with two outs in the third when Rivas laced a double to right and scored on Van Gansen’s single.
Rivas and Van Gansen played a role in San Antonio’s run in the eighth. Rivas, who went 3 for 4, singled, went to second on a balk and came home on Van Gansen’s single.
“When you’re a starting pitcher and get a good lead, you don’t have to worry about much,” Paddack said. “You just go out there and let the defense behind you do the job. They did a great job. I was pumped after Josh (Naylor) made that catch. Austin Allen did a great job behind the plate. They all helped me.”
Now, Paddack looks to build on Saturday’s performance.
“My fastball command was better,” Paddack said. “I know at this level hitters aren’t going to chase too many pitches. When I come in (Sunday) I’m going to look at film and get back to work to get ready for my next start. I’m still working on my curveball.”
At the same time, Paddack appreciates the comeback that is happening.
“The rehab process of coming back from Tommy John is something no player wants to experience,” Paddack said. “From day one I told myself if I do everything correctly I will get better and this will help me in the long run of my career. I stayed mentally prepared and not let my emotions get to me. It’s been a blessing each and every day to get this opportunity.”