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Linebrink glad to remain with Padres

Linebrink glad to remain with Padres

PEORIA, Ariz. -- As an experienced bullpen artist, always on call, Scott Linebrink grasps the relationship between smoke and fire. That's why they call him a fireman.

Over the winter, the smoke engulfed his name, which surfaced repeatedly in trade rumors as he relaxed at home in Texas.

When the smoke cleared, he was still a member of the San Diego Padres, but the man who gets the ball to all-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman understands the nature of fires -- and how they can start up again without notice.

"First of all, I'm happy to be here -- I have a job to do, and I hope I'm here," the Padres' reliable setup man said as the club went through its physical exams on Friday in preparation for Saturday's first workout of pitchers and catchers at Peoria Sports Complex.

Linebrink's agent, former Major League pitcher Joe Sambito, informed him the club maintains it won't let him go "unless it's a pretty big deal," the pitcher said. He called it a "nice vote of confidence."

Padres general manager Kevin Towers told MLB.com he doesn't anticipate a trade breaking up the balance of a bullpen that has tipped the National League West scales the Padres' way the past two seasons.

"We've never actively shopped him," Towers said. "People call and ask about him, knowing the depth of our bullpen and with [Cla] Meredith there now. There's not been a deal yet that's presented itself that we've really considered. He's too valuable, too important to our bullpen right now.

"A deal would have to present itself that's one-sided in our view, and I doubt that happens."

That big deal, if it happens, presumably would involve a loud bat. When talks surfaced a few weeks ago linking the Padres to Philadelphia outfielder Aaron Rowand, it was the latest in a string of rumors featuring Linebrink, whose success in the eighth inning the past three seasons easily could translate into a closer's role elsewhere.

"It'd be a huge hit for the team," Hoffman said of the notion of sacrificing Linebrink in a deal. "Let's not look at it just from the bullpen's standpoint -- he's an integral part of this team's success. I think it's extremely flattering to him that he's sought after by other clubs, but there's a reason for that.

"To hear your name mentioned -- New York, Atlanta, Texas -- your mind wanders. It detracts from your ability to focus and prepare. Then you become numb to it."

Linebrink seems resigned to dealing with the rumors.

"We're probably going to see more talk than ever when people get down here and see what's shaping up on their ballclubs," Linebrink said. "When I'm at home, it's a little easier to avoid all the talk. Now that I'm here, that changes, of course.

"Having played in two other organizations [San Francisco and Houston] and being in the league for a while now, that makes it a little easier to handle [the rumors]. Going to another team wouldn't be as drastic as for a younger guy getting moved for the first time.

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"I'll never forget the fact that the only reason I got an opportunity was because of the Padres [who claimed him on waivers in 2003]. I think they're happy with the job I've done."

Having coached the Angels' superb bullpen the past seven seasons and seen how their setup men paved the glory road for closers Troy Percival and Francisco Rodriguez, new manager Bud Black is fully aware of Linebrink's value.

"We all know how important he is," Black said. "Kevin Towers will tell you. He gets calls on Linebrink all the time."

Linebrink reviewed his 2006 season when it was over and concluded that it wasn't bad at all, all things considered.

"There were about six weeks or so after the break that killed me in terms of my ERA," he said. "There was some bad luck involved there. I thought I was throwing fairly well, but I wasn't getting results.

"It's not like I'm trying to reinvent anything. When I look at last year, I don't say it was a bad year. There were more blown saves than I'd like. I just have to take those stretches and manage them as best I can. I felt our bullpen put together a good year overall, and I was part of that."

Linebrink led all of Major League Baseball with 36 holds last season, five more than Scot Shields of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

An uncharacteristic rough patch in July, when he yielded nine earned runs in 13 1/3 innings, inflated his ERA at season's end to 3.57 -- almost twice his 1.83 ERA in 2005 following a 2.14 showing in '04.

But Linebrink's durability remained rock solid, evidenced by his 73 appearances for a third consecutive season along with 75 2/3 innings. He's 24-9 with a 2.57 ERA in 262 games across his four seasons in San Diego.

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

{"content":["spring_training" ] }
{"content":["spring_training" ] }