Padres: Mark Melancon, Keone Kela will lock down the late innings

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

After spending the first portion of the offseason assembling one of the best starting rotations in all of baseball, Padres GM AJ Preller turned his attention to the bullpen.

The finishing touches? A pair of right-handers with ninth-inning experience in Mark Melancon and Keone Kela. San Diego has several options when it comes to who will close out ballgames in 2021 – including several holdovers from last year’s bullpen, most notably Drew Pomeranz and Emilio Pagan.

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The good news? As starters get used to the workload that comes with the 162-game season, manager Jayce Tingler will have no shortage of relievers at his disposal. But as camp opens in Arizona, Melancon is one of the guys he’s considering for the closer role.

"“He’s certainly a candidate for that, as are some other guys that we have here in camp,” Tingler said. “What he brings is a lot of success. He’s closed out a lot of games. He’s a trustworthy guy, and he’s driven to win.”"

Last season with Atlanta, Melancon notched 11 saves, the third-most in the league, while working to a 2.78 ERA in 22 2/3 innings of work. As a guy who no longer overpowers hitters, he’s learned to keep the ball on the ground and in the yard – and has continued to find success late in his career.

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A three-time All-Star, Melancon once anchored the Shark Tank in Pittsburgh, a group of shutdown relievers who starred for several years. From 2013 to 2016, the right-hander made 297 appearances and put up a sterling 1.80 ERA/2.25 FIP – elite numbers no matter how you slice them.

On the other hand, Kela has been a bit erratic in his career, in more than one way. Known for some clubhouse issues and altercations, he brings overpowering velocity to the mix. The former Pirates and Rangers reliever is just two years removed from a campaign that saw him throw up a 2.12 ERA and average double-digit strikeouts.

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No matter who the Padres hand the ninth-inning duties to in 2021, this pen has the potential to be one of the most dangerous in the Senior Circuit – which bodes well for San Diego’s October hopes.