Idle Bell itching to get work for Padres
San Diego's struggles have limited closer's appearances
LOS ANGELES -- Two weeks ago, the Padres were hard-pressed to get closer Heath Bell a day off.
Now, though, the team cannot seem to find Bell regular work, a problem symptomatic of its recent struggles.
"It's been frustrating at times for me. It's been an adjustment," Bell said before Sunday's game against the Dodgers. "Naturally, I'd like to get in there more."
It was two weeks ago Sunday when the Padres opted not to use Bell to close out a game in Philadelphia. To that point, Bell had appeared in seven of the Padres' first 12 games -- saving all seven games.
The Padres lost that game in the ninth inning when rookie reliever Edwin Moreno gave up a game-winning home run to Raul Ibanez.
Since then, Bell has appeared in two of the past 12 games, 10 of which have been losses.
"I think it's just a process that every relief pitcher has to deal with," said Bell, who is in his first year as closer after spending the last two seasons as the eighth-inning specialist setting up Trevor Hoffman, who is now in Milwaukee.
San Diego manager Bud Black was asked before Sunday's game about Bell's usage -- or the lack thereof, especially the past two games in which the team lost in the bottom of the ninth inning and, on Saturday, in the bottom of the 10th inning.
Bell was up and throwing in the bullpen in both games but didn't appear in either. On Friday, it was Duaner Sanchez who walked in the winning run. Then Saturday, it was rookie Luke Gregerson who allowed the game-winning hit in the 10th inning.
"There are times when you can bring him in," Black said. "There's a time when you bring a guy in based on the freshness of the other members of the bullpen. It can be a dangerous situation if you do it all the time. On the road, you still need to get the last three outs of the game."
Bell is used to a heavy workload having appeared in 81 games two seasons ago. Last season, Bell pitched in 74 games. Bell said his stuff tends to be better, more crisp the more that he pitches.
"If I was pitching more, I think my speed would increase, I'll be able to hit my spots. I would be more fine-tuned," he said. "I learned that in the Minor Leagues. The more that I pitch, the better I do."
But Bell is coming to understand that closing games is an entirely different beast. For starters, there won't be nearly the workload that he's had the past two years. And as is the case recently, appearances can be few and far between.
"I want to help the team win. I want saves, but I want the team to win," Bell said. "I want a chance to be out there. I want the team to do well so much. I want to help out. Now that I'm the closer, I don't help out as much.
"I'm not saying I'm the savior or anything. I just want to help out."
Part of the problem recently for the Padres is finding someone to hold down Bell's old role as the eighth-inning specialist. Sanchez, Gregerson and Moreno have all received looks late in the game with mixed results.
"We're still trying to find that guy," Black said.
Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.