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Lefferts tops list of Padres' middle relievers

Here's my top five bridges from starter to closer
San Diego Padres

Bill Center, longtime sportswriter for U-T San Diego, is an employee of the Padres.

We are going to close my Padres Top-Five lists next week with the five pitchers who I believe to be the top closers in Padres history.

Bill Center, longtime sportswriter for U-T San Diego, is an employee of the Padres.

We are going to close my Padres Top-Five lists next week with the five pitchers who I believe to be the top closers in Padres history.

But before we get to Trevor Hoffman and Co., I want to take a slight detour and mention five relievers who got the games from the starting pitchers to the closers.

The rules here are a bit nebulous. Some of the five closed games. Others started games. But at some key juncture, each served the Padres as the bridge to the closer.

My top five Padres middle relievers:

1.CRAIG LEFFERTS (1984-1987, 1990-1992)
"Lefty" was perhaps the most durable and versatile pitcher in Padres history, serving at times as both a starter and the closer. Lefferts was 42-40 with 64 saves and a 3.24 earned run average in 375 appearances over seven seasons for the Padres. He also made 27 starts during his final season with the Padres, going 13-9 with a 3.69 ERA. But most of his time with the Padres was spent as the middleman in front of Goose Gossage. Teaming with Gossage during the Padres' 1984 National League championship season, Lefferts posted a 2.13 ERA with 10 saves in 62 games. Lefferts led the Major Leagues and set a still-standing club record with 83 appearances out of the bullpen in 1986 when he had a 3.09 ERA in 107 2/3 innings pitched. Lefferts worked a total of 659 1/3 innings for the Padres with a 1.249 WHIP and a 6.2 WAR. Acquired by the Padres from the Cubs with left fielder Carmelo Martinez on Dec. 3, 1983, Lefferts was traded to the Giants on July 5, 1987, and returned to the Padres as a free agent before the 1990 season. He was traded to Baltimore on Aug. 31, 1992. Lefferts ranks second only to Hoffman in appearances and is seventh on the club's all-time list of saves leaders. Lefferts allowed 1.249 hits and walks per inning (WHIP) and had a 6.2 WAR as a Padre.

2.SCOTT LINEBRINK (2003-2007)
Claimed off waivers from the Houston Astros early in the 2003 season, Linebrink quickly developed into Hoffman's trusted setup man, appearing in 73 games in three straight seasons (2004-2006). Overall, Linebrink was 27-12 with four saves and a 2.73 earned run average for the Padres. Each of his 306 appearances were out of the bullpen and he had 297 strikeouts in 339 innings while allowing only 1.147 runners per inning (WHIP). The 6-foot-3 right-hander had a 7.2 WAR as a Padre. He ranks sixth among the Padres all-time pitching leaders in games worked. Linebrink was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers on July 25, 2007.

3.LUKE GREGERSON (2009-2013)
All 363 of Gregerson's appearances in five seasons with the Padres came out of the bullpen. He had a 17-22 record with 16 saves and a 2.88 ERA as a Padre. He also had 352 strikeouts in 347 innings pitched with a 1.092 WHIP. Gregerson served primarily as the setup man to closers Heath Bell and Huston Street and had a 3.9 WAR as a Padre. Acquired by the Padres on March 23, 2009, as the player to be named later to complete the Khalil Greene trade, Gregerson was traded to Oakland on Dec. 3, 2013, for outfielder Seth Smith. Gregerson ranks third on the Padres' all-time list of appearances.

4.GREG W. HARRIS (1988-1993)
Like Lefferts, Harris filled a number of roles as a Padre and was a member of the rotation for 71 starts over his last 2 2/3 seasons with the Padres. But in his first two seasons as a Padre, the right-hander made 132 appearances out of the bullpen with a 2.40 ERA and 15 saves in 270 1/3 innings. Overall, Harris was 41-39 as a Padre with a 2.95 ERA and a 1.182 WHP. He had 462 strikeouts in 673 1/3 innings. A 10th-round pick of the Padres in the 1985 draft, starting pitchers Harris and Bruce Hurst were traded to the Colorado Rockies on July 26, 1993, for catcher Brad Ausmus, starting pitcher Andy Ashby and reliever Doug Bochtler.

5.LANCE McCULLERS (1985-88)
"Baby Goose" gets my nod for the fifth spot on this list over Gary Lucas, Dave Tomlin, Butch Metzger and Cla Meredith. McCullers was 21-38 with 36 saves and a 2.96 ERA in 229 games with the Padres over four seasons. Teamed with Gossage and Lefferts to give the Padres one of the more formidable bullpens in the Major Leagues. McCullers also started seven games as a Padre. He had 326 strikeouts in 392 innings with a 1.273 WHIP and a 5.3 WAR as a Padre.

San Diego Padres