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Trevor Hoffman was asked how he thought the Miller Park faithful would react when he made his debut as the Milwaukee Brewers' new closer.

"I'm sure they're tired of waiting," Hoffman joked.

Hoffman certainly was before Monday night's game against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Baseball's all-time leader in saves (554), the 41-year-old Hoffman signed a one-year, $6 million deal with Milwaukee after anchoring the San Diego Padres' bullpen for 16 seasons. But he suffered a strained right oblique in spring training, forcing him to start the season on the disabled list.

After patiently rehabbing - a process that culminated with two appearances with Class AAA Nashville last week - the right-handed Hoffman was finally activated Sunday, but didn't appear in the Brewers' 3-2 loss in Houston.

But, after spending the first 18 games of the season as a spectator, Hoffman made his first appearance of the season in Monday's 10-5 win over the Pirates, pitching a scoreless ninth inning in the first game of a seven-game homestand for Milwaukee.

Hoffman's appearance looked like it'd be more pressure-packed before the Brewers batted around and scored five runs in the bottom of the eighth to break open what had been a tied game. Milwaukee manager Ken Macha said he called down to the bullpen, but Hoffman wanted to pitch despite the fact it wasn't a save situation.

"I wanted to get in the game," Hoffman said. "The whole waiting process, that's where you get your anxiousness and you kind of get out of your comfort zone in a sense. So it was important to, at some point in time soon, to get an inning under (my) belt."

Hoffman entered the game to his usual anthem - AC/DC's "Hells Bells" - something he's done since midway through the 1998 season. Prior to that, though, his time with the Brewers had been anything but familiar.

He'd only spent one previous stint on the disabled list during a major league career that began in 1993 with the Florida Marlins - he missed the vast majority of the 2003 season after undergoing shoulder surgery - and is in incredible shape for his age. So it was a frustrating start to his Brewers career.

"I don't think that you anticipate going through those sort of things," said Hoffman, who converted 30 of 34 save opportunities and posted a 3.77 ERA last season for San Diego. "But, again, you just try to get the work in that you're able to do and hopefully get back at full capacity as soon as possible."

In Hoffman's stead, the Brewers bullpen had endured its share of ups and downs.

Veteran right-handers Todd Coffey (3.00 ERA in 10 appearances) and Mark DiFelice (0.82 ERA in 10 appearances) emerged as key cogs. Meanwhile, right-hander Carlos Villanueva (6.75 ERA in nine appearances), who began the season as the club's stand-in closer in place of Hoffman, struggled.

And entering Monday night's slate of games, the Brewers led the majors in blown saves with six.

"You get your end of the game guy," Macha said when asked about the impact of Hoffman's return. "That pushes everybody back down. Not having him here, I think, put some of pitchers in positions to go out there and save games and be in tight situations, and for the most part, they've handled it pretty well.

"So that experience of him not being here may be more helpful in the long run than having had him here the whole year."

Hoffman's return allows Coffey to slide back into a set-up role, giving Macha more flexibility in the back end of the bullpen. The anchor is finally in place.

"I think they were kind of waiting for a guy to come back that they knew was going to be in the bullpen," Hoffman said, "and not necessarily help solidify it, but just kind of allow some of the roles to settle in and I look forward to sliding in myself."

Author:Fox Sports
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Added: April 29, 2009

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