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Fine relief closes Padres' trip on a high note

After Cashner's solid effort, five pitchers hold Braves scoreless through 11th

ATLANTA -- The Padres pulled out a 6-4, 11-inning win over the Braves on Thursday afternoon in a testy end to a trying, and ultimately successful, road trip. If the club is looking to thank anyone for that, a good place to start would be at the end -- with the team's bullpen.

Padres relievers haven't been the best in the National League this season, giving up about an average of 4.4 runs per game, well over the NL average. But they haven't blown a whole lot of save chances (four, the second-best mark in the NL), and they showed on Thursday that they can buckle down and do the job when it counts the most.

"The bullpen, throughout the road trip, was outstanding," manager Bud Black said as the Padres wrapped up the trip with a 4-3 record. "There were some minor hiccups from the starters … but, overall, I thought we pitched very well this trip, especially the bullpen."

The 'pen's might was on display against the Braves, with five relievers going 4 1/3 innings, giving up just one hit and no runs. The relief corps struck out four and walked two in helping the Padres get back to .500, at 31-31.

"The bullpen's been awesome," said starter Andrew Cashner, who went 6 2/3 innings and gave up all four Braves runs on Thursday. "Our bullpen has been kind of the heart of this team, as far as keeping us in the game, not giving up any runs and giving our hitters a chance to score some runs."

On Thursday, Joaquin Benoit pitched a 1-2-3 eighth, but the bullpen hit a rough stretch when Brandon Maurer pushed the potential winning run into scoring position with a walk in the bottom of the ninth (the runner, Andrelton Simmons, reached on an error). Maurer silenced the self-inflicted threat, catching Atlanta's Jace Peterson looking at a third strike to end the inning.

In the 10th, Dale Thayer allowed the potential winning run to get to second when he gave up the only hit against the bullpen, a one-out double to Freddie Freeman. After intentionally walking Nick Markakis to set up a double play, Thayer coaxed back-to-back outs to end that uprising.

"When you come out of the bullpen," Cashner said, "there's never not a tough spot."

In the 11th … well, in the 11th, nothing seemed too difficult for Craig Kimbrel. The former Braves closer did his thing, striking out two of the three hitters he faced to notch his 15th save.

Only two NL bullpens have allowed a lower percentage of inherited runners to score (before Thursday, that mark stood at 18 percent for San Diego). Like many clubs, the Padres have not had a complete game from a starter this season, so the bullpen is always involved in the outcome. Win or lose.

"So far, I think we've all got put in our roles, and we know our roles and we're prepared for them," Maurer said as the team readied for its flight back to San Diego, where the Padres will open a three-game series with the Dodgers on Friday night at 7:10 PT. "As long as we go in there and do our best, then you hand it off to the next guy. That's all you can do."

John Donovan is a contributor to
Read More: San Diego Padres, Craig Kimbrel, Dale Thayer, Joaquin Benoit, Brandon Maurer