"The guys that we have ... are going to be given an opportunity on a regular basis to see what they can do ... to prove what they can do at this level," Padres manager Bud Black said. "It's a baptism by fire for a lot of these guys."
It's been more an inferno lately. After a 9-3 start that saw this no-name bullpen post an 2.52 ERA, the same cast of relievers has gone 2-3 with a 6.87 ERA since, fueling the run of poor performances the past 10 days.
In this 10-game funk, the bullpen has allowed 26 earned runs in its past 25 2/3 innings.
"Some young guys are settling into the Major Leagues," Black said of a bullpen that is filled with four rookies and several other players short on Major League service time. "Hopefully, they have the arms and the stuff. It's been a little spotty out of the bullpen."
It was in the seventh inning Thursday, right after the Padres (11-11) took the lead, 5-4, on an Adrian Gonzalez RBI double, his 20th RBI of the month, and later an RBI groundout by Kevin Kouzmanoff.
The Padres, who got six innings from starting pitcher Josh Geer, then turned the ball over to rookie Luke Gregerson, who was obtained late during Spring Training from the Cardinals as the player to be named in the Khalil Greene deal.
Gregerson allowed three hits to open the inning, including a pinch-hit, game-tying RBI single to Mark Loretta. Two batters later, Orlando Hudson singled to right field. Brian Giles came up throwing home, as Casey Blake stopped at third base.
But Blake didn't stay there long, as the ball skipped just to the right past catcher Nick Hundley and Gregerson, who was backing up the play, as Blake sprinted home for the go-ahead run.
"That shouldn't happen, when a guy on third is stopped," Black said. "In close games, late in games, you have to make plays."
Gregerson didn't duck reporters after the game, instead answering questions about yet another rocky performance from the bullpen.
"It's a game of failure," he said. "It's how you handle that failure. It's not going to be the last time that I give up two runs in an inning."
Edward Mujica followed and got an inning-ending double play to finish the seventh but then allowed two runs on three hits in the eighth inning as the Dodgers (15-8) broke the game open.
That the outcome of the game was hanging in the balance late was more a testimony to the defensive prowess of Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp than it was the pitching of Los Angeles starter James McDonald, who was gone after 1 2/3 innings, or that of Geer, who allowed four runs in a gritty effort that impressed his manager.
"He hung in there, he had a rough third [home runs to Hudson and Manny Ramirez], but he didn't back down," Black said of Geer. "He kept battling."
Geer might have been in position for a victory had Kemp not run off with two plays that save, by Black's estimation, four runs.
In the second inning, when the Padres scored three runs off McDonald, Kemp made a nice running grab to his right on a Jody Gerut liner with the bases loaded that probably saved three runs. Then, in the fifth inning with Gerut at second base, he made a diving catch of a ball that Kouzmanoff sent into shallow center field.
"He definitely saved four runs," Black said.
As for Geer, he got through six innings on 93 pitches, an outing that was not nearly the efficient start he had in Philadelphia on April 19, where he used 86 pitches in his seven innings, but he mostly averted trouble by getting nine ground-ball outs.
"Three pitches or less [per batter] is a big thing with the Padres," Geer said. "That's my game, pitching to contact."