ST. LOUIS -- There's no rhyme or reason as to when Padres closer Heath Bell will throw his curveball, which is considered a plus pitch for him and a big reason why he's reached the 42-save mark for the second time in as many years.
"The best thing about it is that it's a pitch I can throw for strikes," Bell said. "It's a pitch that I learned in high school and I've always been able to throw it. I like it because it can make my fastball that much more effective when hitters know I have a curveball."
According to Fangraphs, Bell is throwing his curveball 29.4 percent of the time in 2010, up from 27.8 percent last season.
Obviously, scouting reports on opposing hitters will dictate to some degree how often he throws the pitch, but he's been known to go through stretches where he'll mostly rely on his fastball and his slider -- with his curveball effectively going AWOL for long periods.
"Last year, in the first month or two, I was throwing my fastball more because I thought people were sitting on my curveball," Bell said. "I will go in stretches where I throw it a lot. Then there are times when I don't throw it that often."
Take Bell's outing in Monday's 6-4 victory over the Rockies. With one out in the ninth inning and one baserunner on, Bell threw Dexter Fowler four fastballs before getting him to swing through a curveball for a third strike.
"It's been that way for four years -- his stuff hasn't varied over the four years here," Padres manager Bud Black said. "There are times, obviously, when his velocity will dip a little bit and it might not be as crisp, but he's been really consistent."
So just because Bell comes sprinting in from the bullpen, especially at PETCO Park, with his entrance music blaring over the loudspeakers, doesn't mean that he's going to come in blowing smoke, firing away with fastball after fastball.
Sometimes, less is more.
"The curve can come at any time," Black said. "It can come 3-2, the bases loaded or after throwing 10 straight fastballs. How about the other day against the Dodgers? He hadn't pitched in nine days, and the first pitch he threw was a curve for a strike."
Ludwick returns to St. Louis with fond memories
ST. LOUIS -- Before Thursday, Ryan Ludwick figured he knew his way around Busch Stadium pretty well.
After all, Ludwick, who was traded from the Cardinals to the Padres on July 31, played parts of four seasons for St. Louis, where he became a fan favorite.
Then he tried to find the visiting dugout for his pregame gathering with reporters and he got lost.
"I didn't know how to get over here," he said, smiling. "That's a first."
Ludwick made his return to St. Louis on Thursday for a four-game series with his new team, the Padres. He spent most of his time, though, talking about his four seasons with the Cardinals and what it meant to him.
"I loved my time in St. Louis, but you can't control anything when it comes to trades ... you know it's a business," Ludwick said. "But this [place] was a steppingstone for my big league career."
Ludwick, who played the last four seasons for the Cardinals before joining the Padres on July 31 in a trade, received a standing ovation before his at-bat in the second inning from the crowd of 38,252. He stepped out of the batter's box and doffed his helmet, first to the crowd and then in the direction of the Cardinals' dugout.
Ludwick went 1-for-4 with a single to start the sixth inning off Jake Westbrook in the Padres' 4-0 loss.
Ludwick, who had been a part of four organizations before landing in St. Louis before 2007, established himself as an everyday player with the Cardinals. He became an All-Star for the first time in 2008, when he hit 37 home runs.
"He's a favorite of everybody in this clubhouse," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "There's no exclusions to that.
"He's a guy that you want to go out and succeed. You can always pull for him to do really well."
Ludwick, who batted fifth in the order on Thursday, said the thing he misses most about St. Louis is the fans.
"Day in, day out, you miss them," he said.
Ludwick, who is hitting .229 with four home runs and 18 RBIs in 153 at-bats since the trade, said he's still struggling to reach the kind of comfort level with the Padres that he had in St. Louis.
"It's been tougher than I thought," he said. "I think it's more of a comfort thing. I know I'm still a good player."
As for what kind of response he expected from the crowd, Ludwick smiled before Thursday's game.
"I don't know what I'm going to hear, crickets, maybe," Ludwick said. "But it will be very emotional ... and much appreciated."
Padres hope to end Busch Stadium blues
ST. LOUIS -- Busch Stadium hasn't been real kind to the Padres, who began a four-game series against the Cardinals on Thursday.
The Padres haven't won a game at Busch Stadium since Aug. 7, 2007, and have dropped their last 10 games in St. Louis after Thursday's 4-0 loss.
The last time the Padres had a winning record in St. Louis was 2006, when they went 2-1.
The Padres, of course, dropped their National League Division Series to the Cardinals in 2006, going 1-1 in postseason games at Busch Stadium.
"When you have the opportunity to suit up as a Cardinal, it inspires you ... you want to perform well," said Padres second baseman David Eckstein, who played three seasons in St. Louis and was the MVP of the World Series in 2006.
"But I think part of it is they have done a good job of building their club around the ballpark."