Twins

Has Chris Paddack Got His Six-Shooter Back?

Photo Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Chris Paddack takes his “Sheriff” nickname seriously. He wears a cowboy hat, bolo tie, and boots before his starts. Paddack wants to take command when he’s on the mound. But lately, things outside his control have kept him from playing his best baseball. Therefore, the Sheriff has called in his deputies to help him restore law and order during his starts.

“Me and Pablo [López], when we just got back from Pittsburgh, we sat down with each other and were just like, ‘Hey man, you have 20 starts, I have 19, how are we going to change this around?’” said Paddack, who pitched 6.1 scoreless innings in the Minnesota Twins’ 5-0 win over the Colorado Rockies on Monday.

Paddack was an effective reliever for Minnesota in the playoffs last year, but this is his first full season starting after his second Tommy John surgery. He owns a 4.79 ERA through 13 starts. Paddack’s 81 ERA+ indicates he’s a below-average starter (100 ERA+ is league average).

Still, he owned an 8.36 ERA after his first three outings this year, and his 3.90 FIP (fielding independent pitching) indicates he’s due for positive regression. FIP measures how well a pitcher is pitching, regardless of the defense behind him.

Paddack’s 3.90 FIP indicates he’s due for positive regression. Similarly, López owns a 5.45 ERA and a 4.15 FIP. López has had a slow start after his All-Star season last year, but he went through the same thing last season. He owned a 4.41 ERA on June 24 but had a 3.28 FIP. However, López had a 2.94 ERA (3.39 FIP) in his 16 starts after June 24, culminating in his seven-inning shutout against the Houston Astros in the ALDS.

‘“I lean on you, you lean on me, and we have to change something,’” Paddack said, regarding his conversation with López. “We started holding each other accountable. Not being a victim out there. ‘Why us? Why is stuff out of our control happening to only us?’”

Paddack also leaned on Cole Sands for advice. Minnesota’s fifth-round pick in 2018 is having a breakout season in the bullpen, primarily because he’s increased his velocity from 91 MPH to 95 MPH by improving his mechanics. Sands noticed Paddack pushed off his right toe rather than using his entire foot. By doing so, he activated his quadricep instead of his glute in his throwing motion. The glute is a larger muscle, which creates more velocity.

“I’m not necessarily a pitching coach, but I’ve studied a lot of mechanics over the past five, six years,” Sands told the Star Tribune. “Doing so myself, there are things that I’ve had to learn the hard way. After just watching a little clip, I was like, ‘Why don’t you just try doing this little thing here?’”

Sands works with Tread Athletics in Charlotte, and they suggested the mechanical tweak. Brock Stewart also uses Tread, a similar facility to Driveline in Washington, and has turned his career around by throwing 98 MPH out of the bullpen. Paddack’s velocity dropped below 90 MPH in his May 30 start against the Kansas City Royals. However, he’s up to 97 MPH after the mechanical tweak.

“I’m kind of going through a dead-arm stage right now,” he said after giving up four runs in 5.2 innings in Minnesota’s 7-6 come-from-behind win over the Royals. “Had a couple of 89s [mph] in there to start innings — that’s not me. So I’m using this week to make sure we stay on top of the recovery stuff.”

Paddack gave up seven runs in 4.0 innings in his next start against the New York Yankees, but he felt he had his stuff back.

“You go over to New York, rough first inning, then I was pretty dominant the next 10 hitters,” said Paddack. “I knew my stuff was there. Just a couple things out of my control that happened, unfortunately. This whole week, I just told myself, ‘Continue to stay on the gas.’

“Everything has been sharp. My velo is back, my stuff is in a good spot. I’m in a good spot mentally. It’s a long season.”

Despite the negative result, Rocco Baldelli was encouraged with Paddack’s stuff against the Yankees.

“Some of the velos we saw in Paddy’s last outing are more along the lines of his norms,” said Baldelli. “That’s kind of what we saw out of him late last year. In previous years in his career, he’s probably pitching more towards a mid-90s fastball.

“That’s more of what he’s used to working with. But any guy that’s coming back from a second Tommy John surgery, a lengthy rehab, you’re never sure totally where a guy’s going to settle in. But he’s got plenty of arm strength. He’s got the pitches to get guys out.”

The first two batters Paddack faced, Charlie Blackmon and Ezequiel Tovar, singled off him to start the game. But Elías Díaz grounded into a double play, and he struck out Ryan McMahon on a 97.6 MPH fastball, his hardest pitch of the season.

At that moment, he recalled the conversation he had with López.

“I made it personal. I wanted to get back to Chris Paddack that makes it personal,” he said. “‘Hey, we’ve got a runner on first and second, nobody out, I’m not letting them score.’ I’ve got to execute my pitch at hand, but I’m not letting those guys score.

“I was able to get a ground ball and then a punchout. It goes to show, if you simplify the game, it won’t snowball on you. If you control those emotions and thoughts out there, most of the time, things will happen in your favor.”

Paddack’s fastball, curve, slider, and changeup played up throughout his start. He had his first scoreless outing since his six scoreless innings against the Boston Red Sox on May 3. The Sheriff was back in command, and he has his deputies to thank for restoring law and order.

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