Bell proud to have earned redemption
Pushed out by Mets, All-Star closer turns heads with Padres
MIAMI -- As the National League's reigning saves leader and an All-Star closer, Heath Bell can feel assured that he got the last laugh on the Mets, the team that tested his will over parts of three seasons before he joined the Padres.
Yet, as frustrating as his Mets days generally were, Bell said those days prepared him to be the pitcher he is today.
"You learn to speak up for yourself," Bell said. "You learn to handle all the bumps and disappointments that are out there. Nothing fazes me anymore."
With the Mets, as a perceived marginal pitcher, Bell said he became a guy the club was always trying to fix.
"I'd have three good outings and everything was great," Bell said before the Padres began a three-game series with the Marlins at Sun Life Stadium. "Then I'd have one bad one, and I needed to be fixed."
Perhaps the height of Bell's irritation came during the 2005 All-Star break, when the Mets strongly advised him to change his delivery in an effort to lengthen his stride. Wisely, Bell balked -- so he thinks now.
"By lengthening your stride, your ball flattened out," Bell said. "I knew it wasn't right for me. Heck, even [6-foot-10 lefty] Randy Johnson had a short stride so he could get leverage on the ball. But by next season, I was labeled [by the Mets] as a guy there to fill in."
Bell said the Mets were also always nagging him about his weight, saying the right-hander was out of shape. Bell said he believes his best pitching weight is between 245 and 255 pounds, because of the thrust he can generate toward the plate, but he once shriveled down to 210 pounds as a Met.
"They also didn't take into account genetics," Bell said. "I'm the skinny one in my family."
Bell said he will always be grateful to the Mets for giving him his first shot in the Major Leagues, but he was finally allowed to blossom after the 2006 season when the Mets traded him and another little-known player for two San Diego throw-ins. It appeared to be the classic nothing-for-nothing deal.
Except that Bell has become a distinguished operator in the Padres' bullpen. After two strong seasons as a setup man, he finally earned the closer job last season and rewarded manager Bud Black's confidence with a league-high 42 saves.
Black said he checked Bell's day-by-day work and found that the great bulk of his effort was very solid. Bell said the manager told him if he had twice as many bumpy games as he had in 2006 as a Met, he still would be happy with him.
"We just focused on limiting the rough outings," Black said.
Black also adjusted to Bell's weight, which hovers around 250 pounds now. It helped that the manager was familiar with a successful but rotund pitcher named Troy Perceval.
"I felt that the extra weight helped Troy," Black said. "And I believe it helps Heath."
Young not far from return to Padres
MIAMI -- On Monday, right-hander Chris Young took a significant step toward returning to the Padres' rotation.
Young threw about 35 pitches in the bullpen before San Diego's 10-1 loss to the Florida Marlins and was tentatively cleared to pitch on Thursday for Triple-A Portland against Salt Lake City.
Once San Diego makes sure on Tuesday that Young has had no relapse, he'll be on his way to Utah. Padres manager Bud Black is unclear whether Young, out with a right shoulder strain, will need one or two starts before he can return to the starting rotation. Young believes that since he has been out only slightly more than two weeks, his arm strength is still strong enough to return after one Minor League appearance.
"The arm feels good -- that's the best thing," Young said. "We'll see on Thursday, but I'm thinking I could be ready to return after that."
Young was put on the disabled list on April 7, a day after he earned the victory against the D-backs in his season debut.
On Monday, Black stood in the batter's box as Young threw all of his pitches.
"He looked real good," Black said.
Gonzalez making homers habitual
MIAMI -- All-Star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez entered the Padres' series opener against the Marlins on Monday trying to hit a home run in his fifth consecutive game.
Gonzalez flexed his home-run muscle on Wednesday in San Diego's final game against the San Francisco Giants and then for three consecutive days in Cincinnati to pull within two games of the club record, which was set by Graig Nettles in 1984.
As Gonzalez's most recent homer was leaving Great American Ball Park on Sunday, Padres TV announcer Dick Enberg said: "We're going to have to tie him up to get him out of Cincinnati tonight. He doesn't want to leave."
Still, the first baseman is no stranger by now to hitting home runs in bunches wherever he plays. Last season, he had one streak in which he homered in four consecutive games and another of five games.
"I can't control it, so I just try to roll with it," Gonzalez said. "I'm just hoping to get some pitches to hit."
Some teams try to pitch around Gonzalez, befitting his status as one of the game's premier power hitters. Other teams, like the Reds, choose to challenge him. Of course, Cincinnati found out the hard way that it wasn't the smartest of decisions.
Gonzalez spent some of his time before Monday's game watching video of Marlins starter Josh Johnson.
"As natural a hitter as he is, he also has a very strong work ethic," said Padres hitting coach Randy Ready. "That's a separator for him. He's not happy with himself if he doesn't prepare, and prepare to the best of his ability."
Hobbled Cabrera fights through pain
MIAMI -- It didn't take long for Padres shortstop Everth Cabrera to return to the starting lineup. He was hit on the left knee by a pitch on Saturday but was still able to pinch-run in Sunday's 5-4 loss to the Reds.
He worked his way back into the starting lineup for Monday's series opener against the Marlins despite admittedly being less than full speed.
"I'm about 60 or 70 percent," Cabrera said after taking batting practice on Monday. "But even when you're just half good, you can still play and have a chance to help the team. After a while, there's probably not that many days where you're going to be 100 percent anyway."
Cabrera figured that once his adrenaline rises in the heat of the game, he'll be just fine.
Manager Bud Black left Cabrera out of the starting lineup on Sunday, in part as a precaution, but he eventually found Cabrera lobbying to get in the game.
"He wants to play," Black said. "He loves to play."
Charlie Nobles is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.