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Relievers hurl 9 stellar frames in win vs. Cards

Thin on starting options, Padres get shut-down effort at Busch Stadium
MLB.com @AJCassavell

ST. LOUIS -- "Bullpen day" just might be the most effective turn through the San Diego starting five these days.

That's not a knock on the rest of the rotation either. Three times in the past three weeks, the Padres have called on their relievers to eat nine innings. And three times in the past three weeks, they've done so effectively. The last two have been masterful.

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ST. LOUIS -- "Bullpen day" just might be the most effective turn through the San Diego starting five these days.

That's not a knock on the rest of the rotation either. Three times in the past three weeks, the Padres have called on their relievers to eat nine innings. And three times in the past three weeks, they've done so effectively. The last two have been masterful.

View Full Game Coverage

The Padres rode five relievers to a 4-2 victory over the Cardinals on Tuesday night at Busch Stadium. They briefly flirted with the first combined perfect game in history, before Harrison Bader beat out a slow grounder to third base in the sixth.

Free-and-easy left-hander Matt Strahm worked three dominant frames, retiring all nine men he faced. Sidearming right-hander Adam Cimber followed suit, allowing only Bader's infield hit but promptly erasing it with a double play. Craig Stammen surrendered two runs in the seventh, but Kirby Yates and Brad Hand held St. Louis in check the rest of the way.

"It's got to be tough as a hitter," said Padres manager Andy Green. "First, you have a lefty slinger throwing 95-96 [mph]. Next at-bat, you've got a drop-down righty coming from underneath. It's just two radically different looks, and it plays well off each other and keeps guys uncomfortable. By the time you're up a third time, you're facing a back-end reliever.

"It played out as close to how you'd like it to as possible."

Video: SD@STL: Hand notches 20th save of the season

It wasn't as though Green demanded anything extra from his relievers on Tuesday. The Padres view Strahm as a starter in the future. But he's returning from knee surgery this season and won't be extended, innings-wise. Three frames were par for the course.

Cimber, meanwhile, burst onto the scene in Spring Training and has established himself as an immensely versatile weapon. He's no stranger to pitching multiple innings either.

"It's really fun to get to see their whole lineup and take on all of them," Cimber said. "And it's good to get a clump of innings at a time, when you feel like you're rolling."

"It's complete opposite ends of the spectrum," said Strahm. "He's down on the right, and I'm up on the left. It's a good combo."

Stammen, Yates and Hand have locked down the last three frames all season. It doesn't matter much whether they're doing so after a starter or multiple relievers.

"I'm not surprised," pitching coach Darren Balsley said of the bullpen's success. "It's what you'd expect. We have good arms down there."

Video: SD@STL: Galvis lays out to nab liner in 4th

The decision to incorporate a bullpen day into their pitching plans was born out of necessity. Four weeks ago, Joey Lucchesi went down with a right hip strain, and the Padres were thin on starting options.

Lately, they've chosen to carry nine relievers instead of filling Lucchesi's place. On Wednesday, they held the Braves to one run. Tuesday they allowed two. In both cases, Cimber and Strahm served as catalysts.

"Early returns are good," Green said. "These guys are ... built for nine batters pretty easily, or 10 batters. And so it just makes sense to give them those pieces of the lineup and keep hitters uncomfortable. I like what's been going on, obviously. We'll continue to watch it. I'd expect to do it again on Sunday."

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Homering Hoz: This week, Eric Hosmer is playing in Missouri for the first time since his final game with the Royals last year. He certainly seems to enjoy hitting in the Show Me State. Hosmer opened the scoring with a long home run to straightaway center field in the top of the fourth inning. Just like that, the San Diego offense had awoken. With two outs in the frame, the Padres pieced together four straight singles, scoring two more runs on A.J. Ellis' two-out knock.

Video: SD@STL: Hosmer goes dead center for solo homer

Tacking on: With their bullpen cruising, the Padres offense didn't rest on its laurels. Manuel Margot opened the seventh inning with a laser off the left-center-field wall for a double. Ellis followed with a sacrifice bunt, and Margot would score on Christian Villanueva's RBI groundout. San Diego led, 4-0.

Video: SD@STL: Villanueva plates Margot with groundout

SOUND SMART
Tuesday marked the first time in recorded history that a starting pitcher faced nine hitters and recorded nine outs and was followed by a reliever who faced nine hitters and recorded nine outs.

HE SAID IT
"There's been a lot of years where people ask me which bullpen was the best. We've had so many good ones, it's hard to say. ... This is definitely the most unique." -- Balsley

MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
The Cardinals tried unsuccessfully to shave a run off the board following Ellis' two-run knock in the fourth, challenging Freddy Galvis' slide into home ahead of Bader's throw from right. Galvis was originally ruled safe after appearing to sneak in underneath Yadier Molina's tag at the plate. The call stood after a 1-minute, 47-second review.

Video: SD@STL: Galvis safe at home after review

UP NEXT
The last time Eric Lauer faced St. Louis, the Cardinals ambushed him for four home runs. In his worst start as a big leaguer, Lauer allowed six runs over 2 1/3 innings on May 11. Since then, he's been up-and-down, rotating solid outings with poor ones. The rookie left-hander faces the Cardinals again on Wednesday at 5:15 p.m. PT, as he looks to find a measure of consistency. St. Louis counters with right-hander Luke Weaver.

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

San Diego Padres, Matt Strahm