When Beck Returns

There is a light at the end of the bullpen tunnel. Rod Beck is expected to be back with the San Diego Padres sometime in May and the news could not come soon enough to a fully taxed bullpen. Rarely have starters not given way to the relief corps early in the game and the pitching at the back end of the rotation has not been all roses.

Changes are coming to the San Diego Padres bullpen. It's just a matter of who moves ... and when.

Two jobs in the present Padres bullpen could be on the line over the next couple of weeks.

The Padres are currently carrying 12 pitchers and only 13 position players.

If right-hander Rod Beck rejoins the Padres bullpen as expected in mid-May, one relief pitcher will surely go. And when infielder Jeff Cirillo returns from the disabled list -- possibly at near the same time -- two relief pitchers could go.

As it stands now, the Padres have only one spare infielder in Ramon Vazquez. But they've got seven pitchers in the bullpen, including Rule 5 draftee Jason Szuminski and situational left-hander Eddie Oropesa -- both of whom are struggling.

Szuminski was charged with four earned runs in one-third of an inning Sunday (April 25) at Arizona. The MIT grad and First Lieutenant in the Air Force Reserve has given up runs in four of his five appearances and has an ERA of 9.45. Richie Sexon's homer Sunday was the third off Szuminski in just 6 2/3 innings.

Oropesa, meantime, has a 15.43 ERA over 10 appearances. On Sunday (April 25) in Arizona, the former Diamondback walked the bases loaded without retiring a hitter.

The bullpen situation cleared up recently with Ismael Valdez going to the rotation to the No. 5 slot for injured left-hander Sterling Hitchcock. And right-handers Antonio Osuna (one hit allowed over 3 1/3 innings in his last two appearances before giving up a run on three hits Sunday, April 25) and Jay Witasick (one hit allowed in 5 1/3 innings over his last four outings) have both pitched better after slow starts dropped them out of the setup roles they had been projected to fill during the preseason.

As it stands now, Trevor Hoffman is the closer with Japanese import Akinori Otsuka working setup and Scott Linebrink coming on in the seventh in winnable games. Backing those three right-handers are Witasick, Osuna, Szuminski and Oropesa.

Two of the latter four could be working on borrowed time.

Both Szuminski and Oropesa won spots in the bullpen off final-day decisions by the Padres -- Cirillo going to the disabled list and Hitchcock being optioned to Class A Lake Elsinore because the Padres didn't need their No. 5 starter until April 17 (Hitchcock suffered his rib injury while weight training during his hiatus).

During the last days of spring, the Padres were trying to work out a deal with the Cubs to trade for Szuminski rather than return him via the Rule 5 provisos. But the Cubs were apparently more interested in having Szuminski return than in the players the Padres were offering.

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