Bullpen has rounded into form for Padres

Bullpen has rounded into form for Padres

CINCINNATI -- When Mother Nature brought on a 69-minute rain delay Friday and forced Padres starter Tyson Ross from the game after five innings, manager Bud Black had no qualms at all asking his bullpen to cover the final 12 outs of the game.

That might have been a trickier proposition in April, but since May 1, the Padres' bullpen has resembled the lockdown 'pen Black and pitching coach Darren Balsley have been used to seeing their first eight seasons together.

The quartet of Dale Thayer, Brandon Maurer, Joaquin Benoit and Frank Garces combined to allow one hit over four shutout innings as the Padres topped the Reds, 6-2.

After the relievers posted a combined 5.35 ERA and a .268 opponents' batting average in the opening month of the season, the bullpen ERA since May 1 was 2.84 entering Saturday. Even better, the batting-average-against mark was a scant .218. In 17 games since May 19, the bullpen has a 1.90 ERA.

"They are pitching better and it's an accumulation of a lot of things," Balsley said Saturday. "It's getting ahead in counts, keeping the ball down, throwing a lot more 1-1 strikes, guys knowing the roles they're going to be pitching in.

"I know the stats are getting better. But the only stat I'm concerned with is the [wins]."

Maurer has established himself as the team's seventh-inning reliever and has allowed one run in his last 16 appearances. Shawn Kelley, after struggling early in April, hasn't allowed a run in his last seven outings. Benoit, the setup man for closer Craig Kimbrel, has allowed one run in his last 12 appearances.

Kimbrel, who has allowed 10 earned runs this season, hasn't allowed one since May 19.

"For us, it's about being really solid in making pitches," Black said. "Our guys know what they're capable of."

Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. Keep track of @FollowThePadres on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.