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Green on bullpen day: 'Early returns are good'

Padres taking unconventional route due to rotation injury
MLB.com @AJCassavell

ST. LOUIS -- For the second time in six games, the Padres used a bullpen day to stifle a good offense Tuesday night. Five relievers held the Cardinals to two runs on five hits in a 4-2 victory. A week ago, five relievers held the Braves to a run and four hits.

"Early returns are good," said Padres manager Andy Green. "... I like what's been going on, obviously. We'll continue to watch it. I'd expect to do it again on Sunday."

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ST. LOUIS -- For the second time in six games, the Padres used a bullpen day to stifle a good offense Tuesday night. Five relievers held the Cardinals to two runs on five hits in a 4-2 victory. A week ago, five relievers held the Braves to a run and four hits.

"Early returns are good," said Padres manager Andy Green. "... I like what's been going on, obviously. We'll continue to watch it. I'd expect to do it again on Sunday."

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There's a fair amount of skepticism surrounding Green's strategy. Some of it's warranted; it's relatively uncharted territory. But there are quite a few misconceptions that go along with the scheduled bullpen day -- which arose out of necessity when Joey Lucchesi went down with a right hip strain.

Here's a look at the most common questions surrounding the Padres' thought process.

Why don't they just call up another starter?

They did. Walker Lockett allowed four runs in 3 2/3 innings two weeks ago. He was sent down afterward. Lockett hasn't been good at Triple-A, but because of injuries and his 40-man roster status, he's probably the best Minors option.

The reality is this: Padres' decision-makers feel that stacking relievers Matt Strahm and Adam Cimber for a few innings apiece gives them the best chance to win. Given the results, it's hard to argue.

No, the Padres probably aren't contenders this year. But they're 6 1/2 games back in mid-June, and they're certainly not throwing in the towel. They're looking to win baseball games, and if they have to get unconventional to do so, so be it.

But how do they handle the workload on the other four days?

The pervasive belief seems to be that using the bullpen to eat nine innings puts an undue strain on the relief corps. The reality is: Thus far, it hasn't.

"If we felt stretched by it, we felt like somebody was put in jeopardy because of it, we'd amend the plan in a heartbeat," Green said earlier this week.

If Strahm and Cimber combine to eat five or six innings, it's not all that different from a starter having done so. Green can manage the rest of the game as he sees fit.

In the immediate aftermath, Strahm and Cimber are down for a day or two. But with only four starters, the Padres are carrying a nine-man 'pen. That leaves seven relievers available.

Video: ATL@SD: Cimber fans Albies to strike out side in 5th

This isn't sustainable over a longer period of time, is it?

The truth is, we don't know. Even some Padres have their doubts.

"You probably can't sustain it for a whole season," said setup man Kirby Yates. "It's not something you can do often. It is something you can do. ... It's hard to tell what kind of lingering effects it has."

Right now, the Padres have four pitchers -- Bryan Mitchell and Robbie Erlin, included -- who can pitch multiple innings. If all four routinely eat four or five innings per week, suddenly the extra burden is nonexistent.

In that case, the only disadvantage is the necessity of a 13-man staff, which takes away a bench spot. The Padres are fine with that trade-off.

What happens in the case of a short start or long extra-inning game?

There's no hard-and-fast guideline. But it probably wouldn't differ too much from what happens in a "normal" rotation. It's generally not uncommon for a reliever to be recalled the day after a bullpen is taxed. The Padres have a handful of capable arms at Triple-A El Paso.

"If you really want to have a day that's devoted to [the bullpen], there has to be a back-and-forth between El Paso, where you're pitching from a much deeper roster than just the guys that exist here," Green said.

In an extreme scenario, it's possible the Padres call up a starter, as they did with Lockett, for a one-time appearance.

Could they continue using a bullpen day, even when Lucchesi returns?

It's not out of the question. Lately, Tyson Ross and Clayton Richard have been reliable. But Jordan Lyles has taken a step back, and Eric Lauer has been mired in inconsistency.

One of them could make way for Lucchesi, while the every-fifth-day bullpen strategy remains intact. In fact, Lyles -- who has had more success as a reliever than as a starter this year -- could profile nicely in a role similar to Strahm/Cimber.

Whatever the long-term repercussions, the Padres' logic is clear. They're trying to close the gap in the division by winning as many games as possible. They have a very good bullpen -- one that's deep and boasts a handful of multi-inning options.

"It's not rocket science," Green said last week. "You put good pitchers on the mound and ask them to eat up 27 outs, they've got a really good chance to do it."

AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.

San Diego Padres, Adam Cimber, Matt Strahm