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09/23/10 9:47 PM ET

Gwynn makes first start since returning

LOS ANGELES -- Padres outfielder Tony Gwynn was wearing a larger-than-usual grin Thursday, the result of his name being penciled into the starting lineup for the first time since Aug. 18.

"It has been a while," Gwynn said, before racing off to hit in the cage before the game.

It was on Aug. 18 when Gwynn fractured the hamate bone in his right hand fouling a pitch off in a game at Wrigley Field against the Cubs. He had surgery two days later in San Diego and was told he could be out between six and eight weeks.

It turns out Gwynn was a quick healer and returned 3 1/2 weeks later. He's appeared in seven games since coming off the disabled list on Sept. 13 and has had two hitless at-bats since then.

On Thursday, he got the start in center fielder, where, before the injury, he was having one of the best defensive seasons of any outfielder in the National League.

"He's excited," Padres manager Bud Black said. "Tony feels good physically, there are no restrictions mentally or physically. He's gotten enough action to where he feels ready for a start."

The move was also made to get another left-handed bat in the lineup against Dodgers right-handed pitcher Hiroki Kuroda.

Black gushes about Padres' bullpen

LOS ANGELES -- Padres manager Bud Black said on Thursday that he's not tired of talking about his team's bullpen, which only makes perfect sense considering that it's statistically the best bullpen in the Major Leagues.

After relief pitchers Luke Gregerson, Mike Adams and Heath Bell combined for three scoreless innings of relief in Wednesday's 3-1 victory over the Dodgers, the team now has the best bullpen ERA (2.79) in baseball.

The Braves rank second in the Major Leagues with a 3.01 ERA.

"The main thing is they're talented pitchers top to bottom," Black said. "The [bullpen] has remained healthy through the year. The group has remained intact ... and there's a consistency with these guys coming to the ballpark knowing their roles."

On Wednesday, Gregerson set the Major League record for single-season holds (37), surpassing former Padres reliever Scott Linebrink (2006) and former Yankees reliever Tom Gordon (2004).

Bell, by pitching a scoreless ninth inning, earned his career-best 43rd save of the year. Bell has converted his last 30 save opportunities.

Adams is 4-1 with a 1.79 ERA in a career-best 63 games.

Stauffer effectively using all of his pitches

LOS ANGELES -- When he was still a reliever, Padres pitcher Tim Stauffer found he could primarily rely on his fastball and slider.

Since he was moved into the starting rotation on Sept. 6, Stauffer has been afforded the luxury of using four pitches now -- a fastball, a slider, a curveball and a changeup that has been an ally for him in recent starts.

According to Fangraphs, Stauffer has used his changeup 15.3 percent of the time in his four starts this month. For a pitch Stauffer didn't use most of the season, it's certainly become a pitch to rely on lately.

"I think the curveball and changeup are good because the fastball and slider can look alike because of the speed," Stauffer said. "I think that it's one of the best pitches in baseball. I have a good feel for it, and I'm confident that I can throw it to righties and lefties."

Stauffer is 2-1 with a 2.57 ERA in four starts this month.

"He's got four pitches he's comfortable with," Padres manager Bud Black said.

Stauffer has even enjoyed a spike in velocity since moving into the rotation, which is something he attributes to being healthy and perhaps having a fresh arm when others don't.

Stauffer was on the disabled list for 46 days after having an appendectomy in May.

"I just think I can let the ball go, the arm strength is there," he said.

Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. Keep track of @FollowThePadres on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.