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Padres bullpen falters without setup men

Black opted not to call on Benoit or Maurer on Friday

SAN DIEGO -- On Thursday in Atlanta, the Padres won the proverbial battle. On Friday night, back home in San Diego, they lost that battle -- but they may have done so with a bit of an eye on winning the eventual war.

Carrying a one-run lead into the top of the eighth inning, the Padres did not go to setup men Joaquin Benoit or Brandon Maurer -- both of whom had pitched during Thursday's extra-innings win. Manager Bud Black ruled the pair out before the game, and their absence came back to bite the Padres in a 4-3 loss to the Dodgers at Petco Park.

"It's a long season, and we've pushed those guys, especially in the past couple of weeks," Black said. "We've pushed all those guys in the 'pen, if you really look at it. A lot of our recent success in the past two or three weeks has been bullpen-related."

It was Dale Thayer, who got the call in the fateful eighth, and he allowed a leadoff double to Howie Kendrick, before Justin Turner tied the game with an RBI single.

Shawn Kelley followed Thayer, and he allowed a two-out pinch-hit single to the Dodgers' Alex Guerrero, which proved to be the difference in the game.

The San Diego bullpen, which struggled in the early part of the season, appeared to have turned a corner in recent weeks. Entering Friday night's contest, Padres relievers had combined to post a 0.80 ERA over the past 10 games -- spanning 33 2/3 innings.

"All those guys have pitched really well," Black said after Friday's loss. "We've had very few games out of our starters that have taken us into the seventh or eighth inning, so those guys have been used pretty much every night."

The recent strain on the Padres' bullpen was never more evident than Friday night. Although they got a solid 6 1/3 innings from starter Odrisamer Despaigne, Black was limited in his options after that. Maurer had thrown 51 pitches over the past three days and Benoit had appeared in five of the last seven.

Video: [email protected]: Despaigne strikes out five over 6 1/3 frames

The burden on the bullpen has been mostly a result of the starting staff, as Despaigne's outing was just the sixth in the last 20 games in which a pitcher lasted into the seventh. In 63 games this season, Padres starters have completed seven innings just 16 times -- 22nd in the Majors.

The bright spot in all of this is that Despaigne worked into the seventh and appears to have turned a bit of a corner himself.

"Every fifth day, I feel good, and I think the results have been there, somewhat consistently over the past couple starts of mine, with my fastball," said Despaigne, who took the no-decision. "I think I used it pretty well today. I was aggressive. I hit my spots."

With more outings like Despaigne's the Padres would figure to see less strain on their bullpen as a result. And, they hope, fewer lost battles.

AJ Cassavell is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.
Read More: San Diego Padres, Dale Thayer, Shawn Kelley