Chris Paddack never got to step on the mound at Marlins Park as a member of the Miami Marlins. It was always the plan for the starting pitcher, whom the Marlins selected in the eighth round of 2015 MLB draft and nurtured in their farm system for parts of two years. He was on his way to becoming one of the best prospects in the sport when Miami suddenly traded him to the San Diego Padres for Fernando Rodney midway through the 2016 season. He pictured himself turning into a front-line starter for the promising core the Marlins had at the time.
These were all the things Paddack had to think about when he finally stepped to the mound in Miami for the first time Wednesday, now the Padres’ ace as a 23-year-old rookie. They were impossible not to think about while Paddack carved through the Marlins for 7 2/3 one-hit innings in a 3-2 win.
“There will definitely be a little more adrenaline,” Paddack told reporters in San Diego before the Padres traveled to Miami for a three-game series, which began Tuesday. “This is the team that drafted me and then got rid of me.”
Paddack took a perfect game into the sixth inning. He didn’t allow a hit until the eighth, when second baseman Starlin Castro led off with a home run to left. The right-handed pitcher struck out five batters his first time through the Marlins’ order, then four more his next two times. San Diego scored three runs against Trevor Richards in the fourth inning and it was more than enough to knock Miami out of reach. Paddack delivered the best outing of his career against the team that drafted him then shipped him to the Padres in exchange for a 39-year-old relief pitcher who posted a 5.89 ERA in just 39 appearances for the Marlins.
Paddack wound up exceeding all expectations Miami had for him. Paddack dominated the minors in 2018 and turned into a consensus top-100 prospect coming into this season. The Marlins (35-58) gave Paddack his first chance as a professional. The Padres (46-49) were quick to give the righty his first shot in the Majors this year and he has become one of the sport’s fastest rising stars.
“He’s good. Obviously, he’s good,” manager Don Mattingly said. “He attacks the strike zone, good changeup, good breaking ball. He’s good.”
In his MLB debut in March, Paddack struck out seven across five innings. In his fifth start in April, Paddack struck out nine across seven. Two starts later, Paddack delivered what had been his best outing, striking out 11 batters in 7 2/3 shutout innings to beat the New York Mets in May.
He topped it Wednesday, outdueling Richards (3-11) by giving up one run on one hit and one walk with eight strikeouts in 7 2/3 innings, then handing the ball off to relief pitchers Craig Stammen and Kirby Yates, who survived an error-plagued ninth for his Major League-leading 31st save.
Paddack (6-4) struck out utilityman Neil Walker and slugger Garret Cooper to end the first, then struck out Brian Anderson and Castro to start the second. He didn’t allow anyone on base until outfielder Cesar Puello reached on an error by Fernando Tatis Jr. and Paddack immediately wiped out the mistake by getting catcher Bryan Holaday to ground into a double play. His first scare came at the end of the inning when he walked utility infielder Yadiel Rivera with two outs and came within centimeters of letting Miguel Rojas reach on an infield single because he was slow to cover first base.
“After the sixth,” Paddack said, “I was starting to count the outs.”
In the seventh, the Marlins started to crack Paddack as the heart of their order got a third look at the starter.
The inning began with Walker launching a fly ball to the deepest part of the ballpark, outfielder Manuel Margot backing up to make the first out on the warning track in center field. It ended with a jolt to right by Brian Anderson, but Hunter Renfroe ranged to his left to make a running grab and keep the no-hitter intact. As he ran into foul territory with the ball in his glove, the outfielder leaped into the wall. A no-hitter was six outs away.
“We saw a lot of fastballs,” Castro said. “We got ready.”
Six outs was as close as Paddack got. He threw two pitches in the eighth inning before the no-hitter ended. The first was a ball, a changeup in the dirt to start the at-bat against Castro. The second went right over the center of the plate, a fastball Castro could turn around and send 399 feet over the left-field wall.
The crowd of 7,818 could finally celebrate — or at least breathe a sigh of relief — and they did. On Wednesday, the mistakes of the past didn’t become outright embarrassment.
“I just kind of had a chip on my shoulder coming into the game,” Paddack said. “This is the team that drafted me. This is kind of where it all started for me, being a professional athlete. The Marlins were the first team to kind of give me the opportunity and it’s kind of crazy to see how it all lays out now.”