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Padres pitcher Paddack looks forward to showing off lion

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PEORIA, Ariz. (AP) — San Diego right-hander Chris Paddack has something new to show hitters this season — a blue-eyed lion.

Two days before spring training opened, Paddack had a tattoo of a lion — his spirit animal — inked from wrist to elbow on the outside of his left forearm. When he comes to a set position on the mound, the lion is directly batter’s line of vision.

He relishes the chance to let it loose on opening day against Colorado on March 26.

“Have I reflected on that start? Absolutely,” Paddack said. “But whoever pitches that day is our ace. The chemistry is more important than that. You can’t selfish yourself out of the group. I’m definitely a big believer in that. But don’t get me wrong, March 26 is my goal, for sure.”

Paddack is a candidate after going 9-7 with a 3.33 ERA in 26 starts as a rookie last season. The Padres monitored his workload in the final stages of his return from Tommy John surgery that sidelined him for the 2017 season.

Paddak never pitched on fewer than five days’ rest last season, threw more than seven innings only once, and was shut down in mid-September. The Padres have removed the restrictions that limited him to 140 2/3 innings.

“I get to go out and pitch every five days and show the world who Chris Paddack really is,” he said.

Paddack designed the tattoo on his arm, which also includes a compass and an image of his home state of Texas. He said he listens to and watches motivational messages with a lion at the center before every start.

“When I see myself in a mirror or look down my arm, it’s just a reminder of what I’m trying to accomplish,” Paddack said. “It hits me deep down inside. You know, the heart of a lion. A lion can define all kinds of different things. Courage. Passion. Relentless. Courage is probably my biggest one. It’s my way of having a little extra edge.”

The 24-year-old right-hander struck out 153 and walked 31 last year, and had he pitched 162 innings his 0.981 WHIP would have been third in the NL among qualifiers behind St. Louis’ Jack Flaherty (0.968) and the Mets’ Jacob deGrom (0.971).

“Having that extra day of rest was important at the time, but I think five days is going to help me mentally,” Paddack said. “Less time to reflect on things. Just grabbing the ball and before you know it you are pitching again. I’m going to spend these 40 days listening to my body. I’ve learned over the years, sometimes less is more. Being a hard worker, that’s sometimes difficult to say. But our goal is to pitch in October, and we have to make sure we are healthy all year.”

Paddack will use spring training to work on his curveball to complement his fastball/changeup combination.

“When Chris is going best, the ability to use all four quadrants with the fastball,” new Padres manager Jayce Tingler said. “I always remember him as having the ability to tunnel that changeup off the fastball, and that is really a hard pitch to recognize. He gets after it. He pounds the strike zone.”

Garrett Richards, newcomer Zach Davies and Dinelson Lamet entered spring training as likely rotation members, and the additions of Tommy Pham, Jurickson Profar, Drew Pomeranz and Emilio Pagan among others gives Paddack optimism.

“We don’t have a sneaky squad any more,” Paddack said. “We have a good San Diego Padres team. Good things are coming.”