Bell rolling in season's second half

Bell rolling in season's second half

CHICAGO -- Padres closer Heath Bell earned his Major League-leading 36th save of the season on Tuesday, though he has his mind on a different number these days.

The Major League single-season saves mark of 62 saves set by then-Angels closer Francisco Rodriguez in 2008? No, that's not it.

Trevor Hoffman's franchise record in 1998, which happened to be 53 saves? That's not it either.

"It's 53," said Bell, who maintained that number has nothing to do with Hoffman's club mark. "My wife asked me before the season how many saves I wanted. Fifty-three just popped into my head."

Bell figures to eclipse his career-best of 42 saves set last season, his first season closing for the Padres after Hoffman left for Milwaukee. And who is to say 53 isn't out of the question, given his success rate?

Bell has converted his last 23 save opportunities, his longest streak of consecutive saves.

After posting a 1.88 ERA and a .248 opponents batting average in the first half, Bell has converted each of his 12 save opportunities in the second half, holding opposing batters to a .143 average to go with a 1.26 ERA.

Bell joked in the first half of the season about being a "drama queen" because his saves wouldn't be of the 1-2-3 variety where he retired three batters in succession. He's done more of that in the second half.

"I guess in the first half I was just building my arm strength, going 1-2-3-4-5 instead of 1-2-3," Bell joked. "Now, as far as getting three outs in the ninth is concerned, it's going my way. But I know that as a reliever, one week can kill you."