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ATL@SD: Venable steals two bases against Braves

SAN DIEGO -- Looking to get a few extra swings in after Wednesday's game, or maybe just looking to blow off a little steam after another distressing loss, Will Venable headed toward the batting cage, bat in hand, only to be turned away.

The door was locked.

If nothing else, the moment provided a fitting metaphor for everything that currently ails the Padres, who wrapped up a seven-game homestand with a 7-0 loss to the Braves on a sun-splashed afternoon at PETCO Park.

Atlanta pitcher Tommy Hanson became the latest opposing pitcher to stymie the Padres (9-16), who were shut out for the seventh time this season and the third time on a seven-game homestand where they went 1-6 and scored a combined 10 runs.

"You've got to be mentally tough to get through some things," San Diego manager Bud Black said before the game when asked about his scuffling offense.

The Padres' mettle was tested again as Hanson (3-3) struck out 10 and allowed four hits -- two in the seventh, his last inning. The team is in danger of tying the franchise record of eight shutouts in one month, a record set in July 1976.

The Padres hit .174 in the seven games and struck out 66 times, which certainly masked all the good their pitching staff did (3.26 ERA) against the Phillies and Braves.

In the end, even at pitcher-friendly PETCO Park, you have to hit.

"We're trying to grind it out. I've seen it happen before; the tide will turn," San Diego second baseman Orlando Hudson said. "Good things will happen."

Nothing good happened in the second inning Wednesday when the Braves (13-13) got five runs off Padres pitcher Mat Latos (0-4), though an error by Brad Hawpe at first base ensured all five runs in the inning would be unearned.

Trailing, 1-0, Latos allowed a leadoff double in the second to Freddie Freeman but got Alex Gonzalez to pop out to Hawpe in foul territory. A single by Nate McLouth into center field sent Freeman to third base. When Latos struck out Hanson, it appeared he might get out of the inning.

Leadoff hitter Martin Prado, on what appeared to be a check-swing, hit a ball down the first-base line that Hawpe -- who had to reach across his body -- could not corral. The ball went into the outfield, allowing two runs to score.

Two batters later, Chipper Jones hit a two-run triple to center field for a 5-0 lead. An RBI double by Brian McCann capped the inning.

"He couldn't string pitches together. We have seen that this year," Black said of Latos. "There's inconsistency from hitter to hitter. Some good hitters got him. And when you make mistakes to those guys, they can capitalize."

Latos, who retired nine of the last 10 hitters he faced after that second inning, indicated that he still hasn't settled into the comfortable rhythm he had mechanically last season, when he won 14 games.

"I'm struggling to get there," Latos said. "It's a matter of getting my mechanics down."

San Diego catcher Rob Johnson saw a different pitcher after that second inning, which led him to believe Latos -- who has lost his last nine starts dating back to last season -- might not be far off.

"They had a couple of good swings but after that, I felt as if he was on top of his pitches," Johnson said. "I felt as if he was more aggressive with my mitt down in the zone."

All told, Latos lowered his ERA from 5.94 to 4.98, as he allowed one earned run in five innings with one walk and five strikeouts. His command was better than in his last start, when he walked five and allowed two home runs.

"He's got to trust his stuff," Black said. "We've got to get him aggressive ... throwing a ton of strikes."

That wasn't a problem for Hanson, whom Black said evolved into a pitcher who doesn't just rely on his fastball-curveball combination anymore to put away hitters. Black said he saw four good pitches Wednesday.

"It was just one of those days when all four of my pitches were working. I was getting outs with all four of my pitches," Hanson said. "I kept them off balance pretty good."

Hanson, who retired 16 of 18 hitters at one point, allowed a single to Jorge Cantu in the first inning and then an infield single to Hudson in the fifth. By the time Hawpe and Venable reached base with singles in the seventh inning, the outcome was decided.

"I don't know how to explain it," said Venable of the Padres, who are now 4-11 playing at home this season. "But I take responsibility in not doing my job. And I know there's some guys who would probably say the same thing.

"I know we're working, though. That's all you can do to make a change." Comments