Hitchcock to warm up in minors

Updated: April 4, 2004, 1:16 AM ET
Associated Press

SAN DIEGO -- The San Diego Padres acquired right-hander Blaine Neal from the Florida Marlins on Saturday for right-handed pitcher Ben Howard.

The Padres also optioned left-hander Sterling Hitchcock to Class A Lake Elsinore so he can get in some work before his spot in the rotation comes up. Hitchcock, the No. 5 starter, won't be needed until April 17 at home against Arizona.

Neal, 1-0 with a 4.82 ERA in eight spring games, spent most of the 2003 season with Florida's Triple-A affiliate in Albuquerque, going 3-2 with a 2.33 ERA. He appeared in 18 games for the Marlins last season, going 0-0 with an 8.14 ERA. Neal was assigned to Triple-A Portland.

Howard, 1-1 with a 16.20 ERA in four spring games, made six starts for San Diego last season, going 1-3 with a 3.63 ERA. He spent the remainder of the year at Portland, where he was 7-9 with a 4.55 ERA.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press