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SD@ATL: Denorfia notches a go-ahead single to center

ATLANTA -- It's probably far too early for scoreboard watching, though Ryan Ludwick admitted Tuesday that he has been eyeballing with great interest what's currently going on atop the National League West these days.

"Look at what Arizona is doing. Do I think they're better than us? No," Ludwick said of the D-backs, who have leapfrogged everyone in the division to land in first place after a slow start.

"Who says we can't make a little run?"

Who says it hasn't already started?

On a muggy night at Turner Field, the Padres' bats came to life, as Ludwick finished off a torrid May with four of the club's 14 hits as San Diego ran its win streak to a season-high four games with a 5-4 victory over the Braves.

Ludwick had his first four-hit game with the Padres (24-31), Chris Denorfia added three hits and pitcher Mat Latos (3-6) won consecutive games for the first time since last July as the Padres finished off a .500 month (14-14).

While Ludwick's early-season offensive woes mirrored those of the team, his meteoric rise in May -- he hit .314 with 23 RBIs in 26 games -- essentially occurred at the precise time San Diego began playing better.

"We had a bad first two or three weeks to the season," Ludwick said. "We put ourselves in a hole individually, but as a team standings-wise.

"But I'm excited for these guys now. To win four in a row, especially two here is great."

Ludwick thinks this recent stretch could be the start of something for the team, one that scuffled badly in April, going 9-17. And, as Ludwick pointed out, there's an apt case study in their own division -- the D-backs, who were 15-22 on May 15 -- of why no one should be counted out after one month.

"Baseball is meant to be judged over a long period of time. You can't look at 100, 150 at-bats and know what you're going to get," said Padres third baseman Chase Headley, who extended his hitting streak to 10 with two hits Tuesday.

Ludwick has raised his average from .198 to .258 since the end of April. Headley (.229 to .273) and shortstop Jason Bartlett (.233 to .253) have also started having more consistent success at the plate over a prolonged stretch.

The seventh inning of Tuesday's game was an example of the Padres having good at-bats throughout the lineup. In that inning, they parlayed a walk, a stolen base and four singles -- including three in a row -- into a three-run inning for a 5-2 lead.

"I just like the overall game we're playing now," manager Bud Black sad. "The bats are starting to come alive more consistently."

The defense and pitching during this stretch haven't been too bad, either. Latos wasn't as dominant as he was in his last start, when he allowed one run in eight innings against the Cardinals, as he needed 76 pitches to get 12 outs against the Braves (30-26).

Latos showed good life on his four-seam fastball -- a pitch Black wants him to throw more often -- but really got a lot of mileage out of the hard slider that he used to finish off four of the seven hitters that he struck out.

"He was stressed a couple of times ... and made some pitches," Black said of Latos, who walked four. "It wasn't smooth sailing from the outset. He sort of backed himself into a corner with some 0-2 walks."

"But I thought his slider was a good pitch tonight. You saw the good, hard slider with good depth that the Braves hitters swung over."

All told, Latos allowed two runs on five hits over six innings.

The way Latos went about attacking Atlanta's hitters was much different than the way he went after them in an April 27 start at PETCO Park where he allowed six runs (one earned) in five innings.

"He was really good. He was a lot better than he was in San Diego. He threw the fastball for strikes and got away from the changeup," said Braves third baseman Chipper Jones, "which he probably will tell you he fell in love with a little bit."

The Padres took a 5-2 lead into the seventh before an RBI single by Jones off of reliever Luke Gregerson trimmed the lead. With Brian McCann due up and a runner on base, Black went to lefty Cory Luebke, who hadn't pitched since May 22.

Luebke threw two sliders and then a 94-mph four-seam fastball that McCann looked at for a called third strike to end the inning.

"It had been a while since I've been out there, but I've been working on my slider lately," Luebke said. "I had been leaving my offspeed stuff up in the zone."

Then in the ninth, Black went for his All-Star closer, Heath Bell, who had earned saves in each of the last three games.

Black, if he had his way, would have steered away from using Bell, but with eighth-inning specialist Mike Adams down for the day, Bell got the call. He allowed a one-out walk to Jordan Schafer and then another RBI single by Jones that cut the lead to 5-4.

But Bell got the McCann to pop out to Bartlett to end the game, earning his 14th save while securing the Padres fourth consecutive victory. It's their longest winning streak since Aug. 15-18 of last season.

"This is the team we can be," Latos said. "But I even think we can do better."

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