MILWAUKEE -- One swing of the bat may have ultimately doomed the Padres on Tuesday, though it was a developing subplot that transpired along the way to loss No. 86 that left manager Bud Black and pitching coach Darren Balsley feeling optimistic.
Yes, even after a 4-3 loss to the Brewers before a crowd of 30,714, Black and Balsley, who have presided over many a sturdy and successful bullpen in their six seasons together, praised the five rookie relievers -- green on experience, lean on service time -- who kept this game close to the end.
"It's never easy," Balsley said afterward. "But the more you are out there, the more you get used to it."
After Milwaukee's Martin Maldonado hit a grand slam off rookie starter Anthony Bass in the third inning, the Padres were left to play a lot of catchup, something they did with their bats, chipping away at a four-run deficit, but also with the arms in the bullpen who pitched in to keep things close.
After Bass departed after three innings and four runs, five relievers followed -- Miles Mikolas for two scoreless innings, Brad Brach for one and the combination of Dale Thayer, Tommy Layne and Brad Boxberger -- to hold the Brewers to two hits over five innings.
All told, the Padres used eight pitchers.
"This is a great learning experience for guys," Black said.
No more so than when the rookies deliver like they did Tuesday, especially when Boxberger got pinch-hitter Carlos Gomez to popup with the bases loaded in the seventh inning, followed by a strikeout of Ryan Braun to keep the Padres' deficit to one run.
"He didn't back down," Balsley said of Boxberger, a part of the five-player deal with the Reds that the Padres made in December, and easily the least heralded. "It sounds cliché, but he's capable of making those kinds of pitches instead of trying to be so careful with hitters."
Bass wasn't quite as fortunate as the rookies who followed him as Maldonado, a reserve catcher for the Brewers, hit a 2-2 pitch from Bass over the wall in deep left-center field for his eighth home run of the season, a grand slam that was preceded by a single and two walks.
In particular, Bass was kicking himself over a walk to Travis Ishikawa right before he faced Maldonado, who, oddly enough, hit a three-run home run off him here on June 10.
"It's one of those things where I've got to execute a pitch and I didn't. I don't like walks. Free passes tend to score and I knew that it would come back to haunt me. And it did," Bass said.
Bass, who got a spot start after the Padres shut down their scheduled starter, Casey Kelly, allowed three hits in three innings. He struck out three and walked three in using 58 pitches.
Milwaukee starter Tyler Thornburg allowed one run on four hits in four innings. He didn't walk a batter and had four strikeouts.
Brewers reliever Brandon Kintzler pitched 1 1/3 innings of scoreless relief after Thornburg departed the game. Jim Henderson, who got the win, Francisco Rodriguez and John Axford closed out the final three innings for the second straight night, with Axford earning his 35th save.
The Padres got a run in the fourth inning, when Will Venable -- who had three hits Monday -- bounced a single into center field to scored Chase Headley. Headley, who singled to begin the inning, was named the National League Player of the Month for September earlier on Tuesday.
In the sixth inning, after a Headley single to start the inning, pinch-hitter Jesus Guzman lined a single to right field to make it a 4-2 game. Yasmani Grandal knocked in a run later in the inning with an infield single.
The Padres put runners on the corners with two outs in the ninth inning and had a chance to tie, but Logan Forsythe grounded out to end the game.