Saved by the Bell
Florida Marlins not withstanding, the San Diego Padres were one of the early season surprises in the National League. Much of their early season success has been due to an outstanding job of closing by relief pitcher Heath Bell.
Bell, 31, is in his first full season as the Padres’ closer and forgive him if he feels a bit intimated from his role—he’s replacing all-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman. Bell has always been a solid relief pitcher who is tough to hit, but has always toiled in the shadows of the all-time saves leader. He held opponents to a .229 average in 2008 and a .185 average in 2007.
The Padres had gotten off to a hot start winning four games in New York and Philadelphia and sporting a 9-3 record. “We’re playing fundamentally sound,” said manager Bud Black. But, the Padres have reeled recently, losing 8 of their last 10 games to even their record at 11-11 on the year.
Heath Bell had 8 saves entering the weekend. At one point, he had saved three games in a row, but Black refused to let Bell pitch a fourth day in a row and the Padres blew a lead in the final game of their four game stint in Philly. Bell has appeared in 9 games and has yet to give up a run with 4 hits, 2 walks, and
9 strikeouts. He has an impressive WHIP of 0.69 and is holding opponents to a .143 batting average.
As for Hoffman, the new Brewers’ closer was sent to Nashville to pitch an inning in two consecutive games as part of his rehab assignment. Hoffman’s re-activation puts temporary closers Todd Coffey and Carlos Villanueva back to their normal roles. Hoffman, who signed a $6 million contract with Milwaukee, has been sidelined since halfway through spring training with a muscle strain on his side. Since coming back to the Bigs, Hoffman has notched saves against the Pirates and D-Backs.
After notching his third save of the season, Bell was confident about his chances of reaching Hoffman’s mark. “I’m going after his Padres record for saves. His all-time record is probably out of reach.”
Hoffman had 554 saves for the Padres and has 558 all-time.