Rotation Overview

The San Diego Padres have made relief pitching a priority this offseason. A frontline starter is also on the menu, but providing a bridge to Trevor Hoffman could be the difference next season.

Three starting pitchers are assured of returning next season. Beyond that, questions remain:

RHP Brian Lawrence (10-15, 4.19, 33 starts) -- The 27-year-old is presently the No. 1 man in the rotation. Better suited to being a No. 2 or 3, which is why the Padres are looking to sign a Greg Maddux or another No. 1. Between July 10 and Aug. 5, Lawrence lost five straight starts and had a 6.07 ERA. But he was 5-1 down the stretch with a 2.79 ERA.

RHP Adam Eaton (9-12, 4.08) -- Padres believe 25-year-old has the stuff to eventually be a No. 1 or 2. Just completed first full season back from elbow reconstruction surgery. Finished 7-5 with a 3.72 ERA over the second half of the season. Won finale to snap three-game losing streak.

RHP Jake Peavy (12-11, 4.11) -- 22-year-old led the Padres with 12 wins and already has 18 in 1 1/2 seasons in the majors. Was the steadiest of the Padres' three "cornerstone" young starters over the length of the season. The downside, he has allowed 33 homers in 32 starts.

Possibilities?

RHP Ben Howard (1-3, 3.63) -- If the Padres sign only one starting pitcher in the offseason, the hard-throwing 24-year-old could be in contention for a rotation spot. Had 3.18 ERA over final five starts. Allowed 10 homers in 34 2/3 innings, accounting for 13 of the 17 runs charged against Howard.

Take my wife please:

RHP Kevin Jarvis (4-8, 5.87) -- Padres owe Jarvis $4.25 million in 2004. Would love to trade him. But he finished the year with soreness in the elbow that was surgically repaired in 2002 (flexor tendon) and was 0-6 with 8.28 ERA over last eight starts (also allowed 11 homers in those games. Best hope is that he begins strong in the bullpen and is traded.

The bullpen could see a total overhaul except two or three players:

RHP Trevor Hoffman (0-0, 2.00) -- Although Padres will give him the $2 million buyout to make him a free agent, both club and the pitcher want to continue the association of 11 seasons. Allowed two earned runs on seven hits in nine late season appearances for one inning apiece after returning from two rounds of shoulder surgery. There is a 12-mph separation between the fastball and change, which is a good sign for the future. And he's pain free.

RHP Jay Witasick (3-7, 4.53) -- Is signed for the 2004 season. Did not finish strong (0-4 with an 8.64 ERA in his final nine appearances dating to Sept. 6) and didn't fare well in clutch situations throughout the season. Padres would like to see him in the sixth-or-seventh inning slot rather than as the setup man.

RHP Scott Linebrink (3-2, 3.31 overall) -- Already talking to the Padres about returning in 2004 as the long man and possible spot starter. Linebrink had a 2.82 ERA in 43 appearances as a Padre.

In the running:

LHP Kevin Walker (0-0, 5.40) -- Like Eaton, coming off elbow reconstruction surgery. Early in rehab, was ahead of Eaton's pace. But spent most of 2003 season with Triple-A Portland and was spotty in first appearances back with Padres in September. Looked sharper in last three outings. Walked only batter he faced in four of his 10 outings.

RHP Brandon Villafuerte (0-2, 4.20) -- Manager Bruce Bochy nixed a potential trade of Villafuerte to Montreal at the end of August because he wanted to get another look at the Hawaiian, who for a short time last April was the Padres' closer. Allowed four runs on eight hits over eight innings of his last six appearances.

Not likely:

RHP Rod Beck (3-2, 1.78, 20 saves) -- Finished 20-for-20 in save opportunities but didn't have a save situation in September. Padres would love to retain the soon-to-be free agent as a setup man for Trevor Hoffman, but with Beck being 14 saves shy of the 300 mark, that could be impossible.

LHP Mike Matthews (6-4, 4.45) -- Led the Padres with 77 appearances, proving his durability. But had mixed results in clutch situations ... even in situational appearances against left-handed hitters.


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