Chris Paddack is making this returning from Tommy John surgery stuff look easy.
The Padres' No. 22 prospect spun another scoreless gem on Saturday, striking out 10 and allowing two hits over six innings as Class A Advanced Lake Elsinore topped Modesto, 4-1, at John Thurman Field.
Gameday box score
Since returning from the elbow ligament replacement surgery he had in 2016, the right-hander has pitched 16 shutout innings and allowed eight hits and a walk while fanning 26.
Storm pitching coach Pete Zamora said he wasn't surprised by how in control Paddack has looked, despite missing almost two years.
"I'm not surprised. Maybe surprised by how clean and easy it's been," he said. "He's always been a guy with clean mechanics, but he's made it look easy, and that's a testament to how how executes and comes in and does his work."
The 10 strikeouts fell one short of his career high of 11, which he amassed on June 12, 2016 in one of his final starts in the Marlins organization.
Video: Storm's Paddack catches Rizzo looking for 10th 'K'
The 2015 eighth-round pick out of a Texas high school threw 57 of 83 pitches for strikes. The Padres expect to keep Paddack on a pitch count of about 80-85 for the forseeable future, Zamora said. Paddack used his changeup, which scouts project as a plus-plus pitch, for outs but was also landing his curveball, a nascent offering for him, for strikes.
"He knows he needs that third pitch and he's finding good spots for it," Zamora said of the curveball, which he said has a 12-to-6 look. "After he's been through the lineup a third time, he knows when to throw it."
As far as the changeup, Zamora said it's a good pitch on its own but is helped by how Paddack sequences his pitches.
"It's something he's thrown his whole life and it has tremendous shape, but it's the way he paints his fastball, the way he executes it that makes his changeup look even better," said Zamora, who spent eight seasons in the Minors.
Paddack (2-0) got support from Padres No. 17 prospect Jorge Ona, who homered in the fourth and singled, and 19th-ranked Edward Olivares, who tripled and drove in a run.
Despite the loss, the Nuts were heartened by the return to the lineup of top Mariners prospect Kyle Lewis, who doubled in three trips. Lewis had been out since February following surgery on his right knee. MLB.com's No. 70 overall prospect tore his right ACL on July 20, 2016 and was sidelined through the following June.
Acquired from the Marlins on June 30, 2016 for closer Fernando Rodney, Paddack was injured after three stellar starts in the Padres system. San Diego was careful with his return to the mound, giving him plenty of time to recover from the surgery.
It took nearly two years for him to get back on a mound in a competitive environment and Paddack admitted he had moments of frustration, especially a year into the rehab process. But he still found silver linings.
"This whole time in rehab was the best time of my career because I learned so much about myself," he said last month. "What I can handle mentally on and off the field. Those 23 months [of rehab] were the hardest thing I've ever had to do."
Before this season, Paddack had pitched only 87 2/3 innings in his pro career and has never thrown more than 45 1/3 in a season.
The Marlins made him their eighth-round pick in 2015 and gave him $400,000 to forgo his commitment to Texas A&M. His great changeup and connection to Texas A&M led scouts to see similarities to Cardinals right-hander Michael Wacha, although they did not make an outright comparison.
"We're just happy that he's healthy and everyone can see how good he is, and he's been really good for our young pitchers," Zamora said. "He's teaching them work ethic and he's just been a huge strength for us."