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The pen is mightier than the … uh, starting rotation. Yeah, that’s it; the Padres bullpen is mightier than their rotation. And lately, the group that’s supposed to finish games is doing a whole lot more. This trend really needs to stop, and now.

Beginning with Chris Young’s outing last Sunday in Los Angeles, San Diego has made a full turn around the starting rotation, with one well-pitched game by a starter to show for it: David Wells’ no-decision against Arizona. But even that one lasted only six innings.

Young was last seen ducking for cover in the Jackie Robinson game, trying to get out of the way of balls roaring past the mound, via both Dodger bats and Rob Bowen’s arm, as he tried unsuccessfully to nail base stealers.

Relievers pitched seven innings in that one, plus another four following Clay Hensley’s 10-run pounding by the Cubs Monday, and nine more when Greg Maddux could only stick around for five frames Tuesday.

Another extra-inning game Wednesday against the Diamondbacks, albeit with David Wells pitching well for two-thirds of a regulation contest, and general manager Kevin Towers had to send for reinforcements. Fast. Down to the minors go exhausted and not particularly effective reliever Mike Thompson along with bench man Paul McAnulty. Up from the farm come pitchers Aaron Rakers and Justin Hampson.

We’re going to see this during the season more times than the Padres will be comfortable with, and the fact that it’s happening in April, which includes scheduled off days, is not a good sign. They’ll miss those breaks later, trust me. The result can’t be anything but some serious turnover in the pen throughout, even if injuries don’t play a large part. The team will be rotating fresh arms in out of there to make up the innings pitched, or lack thereof, by Maddux, Hensley and to a lesser extent, Wells.

Obviously, long games make matters worse, as does having to get extra outs for no apparent reason. I’m not sure why Mike Cameron is having trouble getting a bead on fly balls lately, but I don’t think a trip to ophthalmologist would be a waste of his time. You know, Global Laser Vision. Perhaps Dr. Yaghouti can do for Cameron what he did for Steve Hartman. Yaghouti is a beauty, after all. What’s Hartman’s vision now? 20-3? Something like that.

Young’s bad outing in L.A. was an aberration, however. After 25 road starts without a loss, he had an ass-kicking coming. It’s out of his system now. It had better be, because the Friars need seven or eight strong innings from their number two man tonight.

— HOWARD COLE

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