Bell proud to have earned redemption

Bell proud to have earned redemption

MIAMI -- As the National League's reigning saves leader and an All-Star closer, Heath Bell can feel assured that he got the last laugh on the Mets, the team that tested his will over parts of three seasons before he joined the Padres.

Yet, as frustrating as his Mets days generally were, Bell said those days prepared him to be the pitcher he is today.

"You learn to speak up for yourself," Bell said. "You learn to handle all the bumps and disappointments that are out there. Nothing fazes me anymore."

With the Mets, as a perceived marginal pitcher, Bell said he became a guy the club was always trying to fix.

"I'd have three good outings and everything was great," Bell said before the Padres began a three-game series with the Marlins at Sun Life Stadium. "Then I'd have one bad one, and I needed to be fixed."

Perhaps the height of Bell's irritation came during the 2005 All-Star break, when the Mets strongly advised him to change his delivery in an effort to lengthen his stride. Wisely, Bell balked -- so he thinks now.

"By lengthening your stride, your ball flattened out," Bell said. "I knew it wasn't right for me. Heck, even [6-foot-10 lefty] Randy Johnson had a short stride so he could get leverage on the ball. But by next season, I was labeled [by the Mets] as a guy there to fill in."

Bell said the Mets were also always nagging him about his weight, saying the right-hander was out of shape. Bell said he believes his best pitching weight is between 245 and 255 pounds, because of the thrust he can generate toward the plate, but he once shriveled down to 210 pounds as a Met.

"They also didn't take into account genetics," Bell said. "I'm the skinny one in my family."

Bell said he will always be grateful to the Mets for giving him his first shot in the Major Leagues, but he was finally allowed to blossom after the 2006 season when the Mets traded him and another little-known player for two San Diego throw-ins. It appeared to be the classic nothing-for-nothing deal.

Except that Bell has become a distinguished operator in the Padres' bullpen. After two strong seasons as a setup man, he finally earned the closer job last season and rewarded manager Bud Black's confidence with a league-high 42 saves.

Black said he checked Bell's day-by-day work and found that the great bulk of his effort was very solid. Bell said the manager told him if he had twice as many bumpy games as he had in 2006 as a Met, he still would be happy with him.

"We just focused on limiting the rough outings," Black said.

Black also adjusted to Bell's weight, which hovers around 250 pounds now. It helped that the manager was familiar with a successful but rotund pitcher named Troy Perceval.

"I felt that the extra weight helped Troy," Black said. "And I believe it helps Heath."