What a relief for Padres

When San Diego Padres general manager Kevin Towers went to the general managers' meetings in Naples, Fla., last November, it was his goal to leave with a second baseman.

But soon after arriving, Towers noticed the terrain had shifted.

Relief pitchers were being hustled by teams.

Towers knows relief pitchers. The bullpen has been the Padres' forte for years -- and the depth goes far beyond all-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman.

So while other teams were courting free agents, Towers gauged the market and decided staffing his bullpen was an even higher short-term goal than finding a second baseman.

He traded for Heath Bell and Royce Ring, acquired Kevin Cameron in the Rule 5 draft and re-signed Doug Brocail.

"Because of the volatility in the market, most relievers want to sign early," Towers said. "But many teams delay their bullpen decisions until filling other needs. I like to get the bullpen done as quickly as possible."

Towers believes a good bullpen parallels an excellent dining experience.

"The meal might be great, but if you have to wait for the check or there's a mistake, it leaves a bad taste in your mouth," Towers said. "You might play six innings of great baseball, but if the bullpen fails, people go away unhappy."

After four games this season, Padres relievers have worked 13 1/3 innings without yielding a run.

Notes:

Kevin Kouzmanoff is struggling. He is 2-for-17 with five strikeouts, including two in his final two at-bats Friday night against the Rockies. "This guy is going to hit and be an impact player," Padres manager Buddy Black said.

Rockies right-hander Jason Hirsh is ready for the big leagues this time. His six-week introduction with Houston last year allowed him to get the jitters out of the way.

Hirsh wasn't intimidated by the sellout crowd at San Diego's home opener on Friday, or by being matched up with future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux. He impressively went about his job in a 4-3 Rockies victory.

He made his big-league debut for Houston a year ago against the Padres and lasted only four innings, giving up three consecutive home runs at one point. He allowed one run in 6 1/3 innings Friday.

"It's the evolution of a player," Hirsh said. "Last year I was a wide-eyed rookie, thinking, 'Oh my God.' Now I can get down to business and be the pitcher people want me to be."

Hirsh worked his way efficiently through the Padres lineup before finally giving way to Manny Corpas with two outs and runners on first and third in the seventh with a 4-1 lead.

"He was pitching with a little edge on him," manager Clint Hurdle said. "There has been a lot of talk (about the trade). All he wanted to do was get an opportunity to go out and pitch."

Hirsh did give up a game-tying home run to Termel Sledge in the fifth, but that was the only Padres batter he even allowed to get past first base until Greene doubled with one out in the seventh.

"I wasn't facing Maddux," Hirsh said. "I was facing their lineup. Still, it's great to pitch against Maddux and get a win."


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