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Padres focus on preserving bullpen

MLB.com @AJCassavell

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Spring Training began two weeks ago, but for three big-time arms at the back end of the Padres bullpen, the season starts Friday.

The Friars have taken things slowly with Brad Hand, Ryan Buchter and Brandon Maurer this spring. Each, after all, is coming off a career high in innings and appearances. The trio finally debuts Friday night against the visiting White Sox, with all three slated to throw one inning.

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Spring Training began two weeks ago, but for three big-time arms at the back end of the Padres bullpen, the season starts Friday.

The Friars have taken things slowly with Brad Hand, Ryan Buchter and Brandon Maurer this spring. Each, after all, is coming off a career high in innings and appearances. The trio finally debuts Friday night against the visiting White Sox, with all three slated to throw one inning.

"We've chosen, with as many appearances as we gave those guys last year, just to be very slow with bringing them in," Padres manager Andy Green said. "They all feel great."

Hand and Buchter will serve as the Padres' primary left-handed relievers. Maurer, meanwhile, will compete for the closer role with Carter Capps, whose debut is slated for mid-March. Regardless of title, both will pitch high-leverage innings for the Padres in 2017.

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"I like our bullpen," said Hand, who led the Majors with 82 appearances last year. "If you put it up against any other bullpen in the league, I like ours. It's a bunch of young guys, no big-name free agents or anything like that. But we've got a lot of talent."

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Hand is at the forefront of those talented arms. On one occasion early last season, he faced 20 left-handed batters in a row without allowing a hit. Later in the year, he eclipsed that mark, with left-handed batters going 25 plate appearances without a hit, including one stretch of nine straight strikeouts.

But Hand's effectiveness isn't limited to left-on-left matchups. The Padres often deployed him for multiple innings last year, and he finished with a 2.92 ERA and 111 strikeouts -- fourth most among relievers.

Buchter, meanwhile, will likely serve primarily as a one-inning guy. He was extremely effective in that capacity last season, posting a 2.86 ERA and 78 strikeouts in 63 innings. That said, Buchter's arm began to tire as the season dragged on, and his velocity dipped.

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"This year I'm going to try to save some bullets a little bit, whether it's warming up in the 'pen or long-tossing," Buchter said.

Ultimately, preservation was the biggest reason the Padres limited Buchter, Hand and Maurer early in camp.

The pitchers understand that logic, of course. But that doesn't mean it was easy to watch from the sideline.

"We've thrown a lot of bullpens and a lot of live [batting practices]," Hand said. "It'll be nice to finally get in a game for the first time."

News and notes

• Righty reliever Jon Edwards was scheduled to pitch Thursday, but didn't feel good in the bullpen, Green said. The ailment hasn't yet been specified, but Edwards missed the entirety of the 2016 season with a flexor strain in his right elbow. He will be re-evaluated Friday.

• Rule 5 infielder Allen Cordoba is back to full health after he was scratched from Wednesday's lineup with left-hamstring tightness.

• Second baseman Carlos Asuaje showed no ill effects of being hit by a pitch in his right side during Wednesday's game.

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

San Diego Padres, Ryan Buchter, Brad Hand, Brandon Maurer