Surgery behind him, Paddack seeks spot in Padres’ rotation

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              San Diego Padres pitcher Chris Paddack throws during spring training baseball practice Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019, in Peoria, Ariz. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
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PEORIA, Ariz. (AP) — Two seasons after Tommy John surgery interrupted his minor league career, Chris Paddack hopes he’s on the cusp of winning a job in the San Diego Padres‘ rotation.

The 23-year-old seems to have as good a chance as anyone to win one of the final three spots with the rebuilding Padres, based on his drive and his impressive performance last season after returning from reconstructive elbow surgery.

“I’d be lying if I didn’t say my goal is to make the starting rotation,” said Paddack, who is ranked No. 5 among the organization’s deep list of prospects. “Being a right-hander in this organization, it’s wide open. I want to do everything I can mentally and physically to earn my spot. At the end of the day, your teammates and coaches are going to remember who you are as a person. I feel like that beats any reward, goal or accomplishment out there. That’s something that doesn’t collect dust.”

Paddack, who is on the 40-man roster, is in his first camp with the big league club.

“He’s an incredibly focused and driven guy,” manager Andy Green said. “He’s on a mission to win with us and to do?something special.?Those are outstanding?characteristics to have. I think everybody is really optimistic about his future.”

An eight-round pick of the Miami Marlins in 2015, he was traded to San Diego in June 2016 for Fernando Rodney. He tore his ulnar collateral ligament and had surgery in August of that season.

While spending the 2017 season rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, Paddack connected with Padres left-hander Robbie Erlin, who also had undergone the surgery. Paddack said Erlin gave him confidence and encouragement.

“With being a young athlete, it was mentally hard for me,” Paddack said. “Being away from family and all these negative thoughts. Robbie had the surgery a little bit before me. We used 2017 to get to know one another — watching his work ethic and watching a guy who’s competed at the highest level going through the same injury and recovery as me.”

Erlin, who had 12 starts among his 39 appearances last season, also is in the mix for a job in the rotation.

Paddack bounced back in 2018 by going a combined 7-3 with a 2.10 ERA and 120 strikeouts at Class A Lake Elsinore and Double-A San Antonio.

Nonetheless, Paddack says he “beat himself up” because of the inconstancies with his curveball. That’s what he wants to work on this spring as he competes with several others for a spot in the rotation headed by left-handers Joey Lucchesi and Eric Lauer, both of whom made their big league debuts last season.

“It’s not where I want it to be and I still have a ton of work to do. But I’m really excited to work with these older guys who have curveballs,” Paddack said. “Just picking their brain, asking questions, seeing what I need to work on and do some drills that they use or have used in the past. Just not overthinking it and taking it day by day. It will come with time.

“This game is about learning something new every day, taking as much information as you can and I’m really excited to develop that third pitch. From the end of the season to now, it’s made a huge jump. Different drills and exercising this offseason, talking to veterans and watching pitchers on YouTube helped me visualize what I want my curveball to look like with the shape and spin.”