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Hoffman Gives Padres Measure of Relief

After two offseason surgeries and five months out of action, San Diego closer will test his arm for final month of the season.

August 31, 2003|Bernie Wilson | Associated Press

SAN DIEGO — Well, Hells Bells, look who's coming back to the San Diego Padres.

Trevor Hoffman is scheduled to rejoin the Padres' bullpen Tuesday, salvaging at least a sliver of the season after missing the first five months following two offseason surgeries on his right shoulder.

Yes, that means "Hells Bells," an ominous, screeching song by AC/DC, will once again toll to announce that Hoffman, who ranks fifth all-time with 352 saves, is coming in to try to protect a lead.

How many times, though, is anybody's guess, because the Padres and Hoffman know there's no need to overdo it. After all, the Padres are buried in last place in the NL West, and at one point they didn't think they'd get Hoffman -- and his intense stare and nasty changeup -- back at all this year.

Plus, Rod Beck has been perfect in 19 save opportunities since the Padres signed him in early June to stabilize a bullpen that was floundering without Hoffman.

"Rodney's done a great job and I don't want to disrupt the stability he's brought to the pen," said Hoffman, who's gotten all but two of his saves with the Padres. "I'm not necessarily saying that I'm not completely ready to go into that role, but we've talked about not going back-to-back yet.

"I think the bottom line for me this year is to get some innings in, and no matter where they are when they come, be comfortable with it. They'll fit me in and I'll try to get some outs," he said with a laugh.

So Hoffman could be pitching in non-save situations as well as closing, and Beck, known to his teammates as "Shooter," will continue to get chances to push toward his goal of 300 saves. He needs 15 to reach the milestone.

Manager Bruce Bochy will juggle things based on how Hoffman feels.

"I think it's a workable situation with he and 'Shooter,' " Bochy said.

The easygoing Beck, who missed last season following reconstructive elbow surgery, is cool with whatever the Padres do, still thankful they gave him a job.

"I'm just assuming that it's his job," Beck said. "I was brought in to keep the seat warm and help out. I don't know that they're throwing him right in the fire or not. To me, it really doesn't make any difference."

September could be a preview of 2004, when it's possible that Hoffman and Beck will be working out of the same pen for the Padres, who move into a new downtown ballpark.

While Beck prefers to close, he was used as a setup man in three seasons with Boston, and he'd be willing to work in advance of Hoffman.

"Obviously he has a good chance to be a Hall of Famer," Beck said. "If they want me to be around, I'm going to have to set up for him. I'd like to be around, so I might as well get used to it."

General Manager Kevin Towers envisions Hoffman and Beck in the same pen, in more ways than one.

"It'll be good for rockers -- Metallica in the eighth and AC/DC in the ninth," Towers said.

Beck jogs out to the mound while Metallica's "Enter Sandman" blasts from the sound system.

The Padres would also hope that having Hoffman and Beck anchoring their bullpen might help end five consecutive losing seasons since they were swept by the New York Yankees in the 1998 World Series. Hoffman is the only Padres' player left from that team.

"They're similar pitchers. They both throw strikes and have a funny pitch to keep batters off-balance," Towers said, referring to Hoffman's changeup and Beck's split-finger fastball.

"They're both guys with ice in their veins who like to be in late in the game. They're the type of guys who like to feed off each other. I think they'd enjoy it, and I think it'd be fun to see those two guys sitting in the pen together."

First, though, the Padres and Hoffman will have to agree to a new deal. Hoffman's in the last year of a $32 million, four-year deal, and the Padres hold a $10 million option for next year, with a $2 million buyout.

"They're not going to pick that up," said Hoffman, who turns 36 in October. "I know they would like me back and I obviously would like to be back here and hopefully we can work it out."

Said Towers: "The best-case scenario is working some deal to keep him around without the option or buyout. It's pretty certain that we won't pick up the option. But we've assured him we want to keep him here."

Hoffman had never been on the disabled list during his 10-year career until after undergoing a double round of surgery on his throwing shoulder in the offseason.

Hoffman missed the final four games of last season with inflammation in his right shoulder, then had a surgery to fix a partial tear in his rotator cuff in October.

He continued to have pain in the shoulder, which was traced to arthritic degeneration in the end of his collarbone. Doctors shaved off about a half-inch of the bone on Feb. 28.

"It just came to the point where it was tired and needed a break to get fixed up," said Hoffman, who needs 15 saves to tie Jeff Reardon for fourth all-time at 367.

While this season brought "a lot of unseen challenges," it also gave Hoffman a chance to see the game from a different perspective.

He watched games from the bullpen, from the bench or on TV in the clubhouse.

"It was interesting," he said. "I don't want to say it was a loss, because it opened my eyes to a lot of the grind that some guys have to go through when they do get hurt. It's not an easy road coming back."

Hoffman threw a scoreless inning in each of the first two of three scheduled minor league rehab appearances.

He says he's feeling good, and he needed only six pitches to get through his second rehab appearance.

"There's no doubt I would like to play the game as long as my body lets me," Hoffman said.

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