PEORIA, Ariz. -- Apparently, San Diego manager Bud Black isn't a firm believer that every team must carry a left-handed pitcher in the bullpen.

It's starting to look like the Padres might go that route to start the season after left-handed reliever Royce Ring was optioned to Triple-A Portland on Thursday in somewhat of a surprising move.

The only other left-handed reliever in camp is Justin Hampson, though he hasn't appeared in a Cactus League game since March 11 because of a strain in the back of his left elbow.

"In Anaheim, we went periods of seasons without a left-hander in the 'pen," said Black, who spent the last seven seasons as the pitching coach for the Angels. "... There's some teams you'll see that won't carry a left-hander."

The Padres might be one of them, which could open the door for right-hander Kevin Cameron, a Rule 5 pickup in December from Minnesota. He must remain with the team all season or be offered back to the Twins.

"We like his arm, we like his stuff," Black said of Cameron, who has a 3.24 ERA in eight games with 12 strikeouts in 82/3 innings. "He's got a natural cut to his pitches. It's been a pleasant surprise."

Black is adamant that you don't have to carry a left-handed reliever for the sake of having one on your roster. He's looking for the best seven relievers -- period.

"I think if you have right-handers who are effective against left-handed hitting ... we are not just going to have a left-handed to have a left-hander," Black said. "That left-hander has to be very good against left-handed Major League hitters."

Ring appeared to be the frontrunner for that job. He allowed two runs over his first seven Cactus League appearances before allowing two runs on four hits with a walk Tuesday's outing against the Angels as five of the six batters he faced reached base.

"We think he's going to be a contributor at some point in San Diego," Black said of Ring. "In the long run, he's going to be fine. He threw well at times and he showed glimpses of what we expect out of him."

If Black does go with 12 pitchers as he's said he's leaning toward, the seven relievers who break camp would likely be Heath Bell, Doug Brocail, Cameron, Trevor Hoffman, Scott Linebrink, Cla Meredith and Mike Thompson. Scott Strickland and Scott Cassidy are also in the mix.

Of those pitchers, Linebrink has had the most success against lefties last season, as they hit just .204 against him. Black said he thought Bell and Meredith could also fare well against left-handed batters as well.

About that bench: While the Padres' bullpen picture is fairly muddled, the bench situation isn't that much clearer.

If Black does indeed keep 12 pitchers that means there will be five bench spots to be had and only four if you count backup catcher Rob Bowen.

There are currently five players in the mix for those spots; Jose Cruz Jr., Paul McAnulty, Russell Branyan, Geoff Blum and Todd Walker.

"It's not easy to construct the perfect bench where you have all the elements you're looking for," Black said.

Blum and Cruz Jr. are essentially locks to make the team. Walker would be considered a lock if the Padres choose to keep him and his $3.9 million salary. The Padres have until March 28 to keep Walker to release him for slightly less than $1 million.

Cruz Jr. has had a strong spring and would be the fourth outfielder and a right-handed bat off the bench. A switch-hitter, Cruz is a career .280 hitter against left-handed pitching.

Branyan has struggled mightily at the plate (.182) this spring and has made two errors at third base. McAnulty, who is doing his best to force the Padres hand, is hitting .353 with two home runs and has shown he's capable of playing in the outfield. He's missed the last few games with a sore knee.

Black said he wouldn't discount Branyan just because of his poor spring.

Spring Training
News and features:
Multimedia:
• Kouzmanoff says club is ready:  350K
• Padres game highlights, March 31:  350K
• Bud Black interview:  350K
• Padres highlights:  350K
• Peavy on starting Opening Day:  350K
• Padres game highlights, March 29:  350K
Spring Training info:
MLB.com coverage  |  Schedule  |  Ballpark  |  Tickets

"You don't want to evaluate on Spring Training," he said. "You want to look at the last season and previous seasons. Russell is the type of guy who can change a game with one swing. I think last year, in the time he was here, he showed what he can do as a Major League contributor."

Your Opening Day starter is ...: Black isn't ready to name his starting pitcher for the regular-season opener on April 3 in San Francisco just yet but said Thursday that he's close.

"It's on the horizon," Black said. "I'll talk to (pitching coach) Darren (Balsley), gather the pitchers and a starter will be named shortly."

Based on the calendar and when the starters are scheduled to pitch during the last 10 days of spring, it looks as though Jake Peavy will start the season opener against the Giants.

That likely means that Greg Maddux will start the home opener at PETCO Park on April 6 against the Rockies.

Pads and ends: While the rest of his teammates are playing the A's in Phoenix on Friday, David Wells will remain in Peoria and pitch in a Minor League game. "It's a more controlled environment to make sure he gets to his pitch count. You can work on some pitches from a development standpoint easier," Black said. ... Maddux essentially cruised though his five-inning scoreless start against the Cubs Thursday, allowing three hits with no walks. The game was called after five innings because of rain. Said Maddux, who saw his ERA this spring drop to 1.80, "It's nice not to be embarrassed.