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Adams remains stellar closer-in-waiting

Adams remains stellar closer-in-waiting

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Adams remains stellar closer-in-waiting
PEORIA, Ariz. -- No one has saved more games in the Major Leagues over the past two seasons than Padres closer Heath Bell, though for his money, the best arm in the bullpen belongs to someone other than himself.

"His stuff is better than mine," Bell said about Mike Adams, who might well be the best reliever in baseball not currently closing games.

"Everything he throws moves."

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But the kind of movement that interests Adams the most isn't currently available to him.

As long as Bell remains the closer in San Diego, upward mobility remains a pipe dream for Adams, though over the last two seasons, he's had the lowest combined FIP (fielding independent pitching, 2.08) of any reliever in the Major Leagues, with opponents hitting a scant .196 against him.

"I think it's only human nature. I'd be lying if I said I didn't want to be a closer," Adams said. "Anyone who is a successful reliever, their goal is to become a closer at some point.

"Here, I'm kind of stuck behind a pretty good closer right now. I know my exact role and where I fit on this team. I know that in order for this team to have success, we have to fill those roles. I'm completely fine with that at this time."

Adams, 31, has posted some monster numbers with the Padres the last two seasons. He's 4-1 in 107 games with a 1.39 ERA. He's allowed 62 hits in 103 2/3 innings and has been death on left-handed batters (.165 opponents' average) more than he has righties (.169).

If something happened to Bell -- an injury or if he was traded -- Padres manager Bud Black said he would have no qualms handing the ball to Adams in the ninth inning.

"He can handle the job, no doubt," Black said. "Stuff-wise, mentality-wise ... we would have no problem closing games with Mike."

For a while this past offseason, Bell thought Adams just might get his shot. But when the Padres traded first baseman Adrian Gonzalez to the Red Sox in December, it was evident that Adams would likely remain in the setup role.

"I think we both thought I would be gone, either me or Adrian," Bell said. "I even told Mike, 'You can close.' He can step into the closer role and we wouldn't miss a beat. His stuff is so good."

Oddly enough, Adams has closed during his career. After a promising rookie season with the Brewers in 2004, the team handed him the closer role in Spring Training.

Adams struggled in Spring Training and then struggled with his command at the outset of the season. Despite a 2.70 ERA, Adams was used five times in May of that season before being demoted to Triple-A.

Adams didn't handle the demotion well.

"They handed me the job and I think I would have been better off if they told me I had to go earn the job," Adams said. "I wasn't mature to go out there and take advantage of the opportunity put in front of me. I closed a little the first month and then I was back in the Minor Leagues. I wasn't able to handle it."

The next time around, if and when the opportunity comes to close games, Adams said he is in a much better place mentally to handle the job.

"I'm a lot more mature than I was five years ago," Adams said. "I don't think I was ready for it more than anything. At that time, I think I expected things to be handed to me. I didn't work as hard as I do now. The main thing, my maturity level has grown so much."

But when will that opportunity come? Bell is making $7.5 million this season and will be a free agent after the season. Adams, who earned a hefty raise this season, going from $1 million to $2.535 million, has two more years of arbitration eligibility.

"I know at the end of the season he's going to be a free agent and whether he'll be here or not, who knows? Heading into next season, I have to be ready to fill his shoes or continue setting him up," Adams said.

"I think the only significant thing about my role is my pay. In this game, everyone wants to make as much money as they can. In order for me to reach that level of pay, I need to be in the closer role."

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.

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