Bullpen In the Doghouse

During the offseason, phase three was to rebuild the bullpen. Now that the first week of the season has been played, the San Diego Padres have found out it is not such an easy task to assemble an elite backend. Leads are being squandered and the bullpen is feeling ashamed.

Padres general manager Kevin Towers placed rebuilding his bullpen as his No. 3 assignment last winter behind adding a front-line catcher (Ramon Hernandez) and No. 1 starter (David Wells).

But while the first and second spots seem to be filled, there are still major questions regarding the Padres bullpen -- a question magnified by right-hander Rod Beck's continued absence because of still unannounced personal problems.

After six games, the Padres' starting pitchers have a collective ERA of 1.88. After the same six games, the bullpen has a 6.62 ERA with a blown save (by Trevor Hoffman) and both Padres losses.

Had not the Padres rallied in their home opener, Hoffman would have been tagged with the loss in the first game at Petco Park.

"I'm just glad we came back for him," said Padres manager Bruce Bochy. "The last thing I wanted was to lose that game with him on the mound off everything he's done for us." On Saturday (April 10), Hoffman picked up his first save since Sept. 17, 2002. But it was a struggle to get through the ninth. He gave up two hits and had the bases loaded when he struck out Michael Tucker on a changeup to end the game.

"It's been a long road, and hopefully this kick starts it," said Hoffman, who missed the first five months of 2003 with two shoulder operations. "I don't think I can put getting back into perspective."

In the Padres' home opener against the Giants, Hoffman entered the game in a same situation and gave up two runs on three hits in an inning.

After two appearances, Hoffman's ERA is 6.00. But he's not really the problem. Right-hander Ismael Valdez, who will likely move into the No. 5 slot in the rotation with Sterling Hitchcock out with problems in his left rib cage, has given up four hits in just two-thirds of an inning.

And right-hander Antonio Osuna has given up three runs on five hits in 2 1/3 innings.

The strongest relief offered thus far has come from right-handers Scott Linebrink and Akinori Otsuka and situational left-hander Eddie Oropesa, who probably wouldn't be with the Padres if infielder Jeff Cirillo hadn't suffered a broken finger during the final week of spring training.

Linebrink has allowed only two hits and no runs in 2 1/3 innings. Although Otsuka was changed with a loss in Los Angeles Tuesday (April 6), the Dodgers didn't hit the ball hard.

"Overall, the bullpen has been OK," said Bochy. "A couple of guys are still trying to find themselves. Overall, I think we're going to be fine."

But the Padres would be a lot stronger in the bullpen were Back in San Diego. And he's not expected to return until next month ... at the earliest.

MadFriars Top Stories