Padres' bullpen developing into strong unit

Led by Rodney, Buchter, relievers posting effective June

Padres' bullpen developing into strong unit

CINCINNATI -- The Padres' bullpen would probably like to forget April.

In 81 1/3 innings, the 10th most in the Majors, San Diego relievers posted a 5.53 ERA, the second worst in baseball. But since then, things have gotten better. They posted a 4.05 ERA in May, and so far in June, they have a 3.10 ERA, seventh best in Major League Baseball.

That success culminated with a dominant series against the Reds, throwing 12 scoreless innings with 14 strikeouts during the four-game series in Cincinnati that saw the Padres win three.

"Maybe one or two rough stretches through the year, which every bullpen encounters, but I think by and large, they've done a very solid job," Padres manager Andy Green said. "Those rough stretches really skew the numbers sometimes, so you look up and think, 'Wow, that's a really unproductive bullpen,' but it's not."

Part of the problem for the Padres' bullpen can be traced back to the innings they've had to pitch -- its 273 innings leads the Majors. In the Reds series, it had to cover two consecutive four-inning nights after starters Colin Rea and Christian Friedrich were unable to get past the fifth inning.

"You kind of want to save those arms," Rea said. "They've been doing a great job of coming in. Especially for me, I haven't been going very deep in ballgames a lot, so they've been doing a good job of coming in, picking me up."

Rodney notches his 16th save

The back of the bullpen has been the one constant for San Diego's relief corps all season. Fernando Rodney has 17 saves and leads the Majors with a 0.31 ERA. The Padres' eighth-inning guy, Ryan Buchter, is seventh among National League relievers with a 1.60 ERA and has only one blown save. Buchter's 36 appearances are tied for 12th in the big leagues.

In this series, both guys have pitched two innings, with two saves and four strikeouts for Rodney and three strikeouts for Buchter. They've allowed a combined two base runners over their four innings.

"When we're trying to close out baseball games and you get the ball to Ryan Buchter and Fernando Rodney, there's not a lot of teams that are running a sub-2.00 [ERA] guy and a sub-1.00 guy in the eighth and ninth inning," Green said.

It's the middle relief that has seen a big turnaround. Carlos Villanueva, who leads the NL in relief innings with 45, has a 0.93 ERA over his last 13 appearances. Even Brad Hand and Brandon Maurer, who have had shaky months, have combined for 5 1/3 innings with six strikeouts against Cincinnati.

"Those guys are great," Green said. "They're always upbeat, they're always willing to pitch. Brad Hand, Kevin Quackenbush will take the ball any day of the week, and they'll take it three days of the week in a row. They're not afraid of anything. You have to have guys like that to navigate things. This series has been big for us to have them produce that way."

Cody Pace is a reporter for MLB.com based in Cincinnati. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.