LeBlanc impresses as Padres win series
Rookie pitches into eighth inning; Gonzalez belts 37th homer
SAN FRANCISCO -- There was only one time Wednesday when Padres rookie pitcher Wade LeBlanc caught himself looking over his shoulder, and it wasn't when he was on the mound trying to navigate his way through the Giants' lineup.Instead, it occurred in the eighth inning when LeBlanc, standing in the on-deck circle at the time, looked back to make sure Padres manager Bud Black wasn't having any second thoughts about letting him hit. "It's a really good feeling. It lets you know they have confidence in you," LeBlanc said of his pitching, not his hitting. Consider letting LeBlanc hit in the eighth inning of what would become a 4-2 victory by the Padres over the Giants at AT&T Park something of a reward for the left-hander who looks like a different pitcher than the one the Padres saw in June. LeBlanc (2-1), who has allowed two runs over 13 innings since his promotion from Triple-A Portland on Aug. 29, finally ran out of gas in the eighth inning but was saved by his bullpen, which nailed down another series victory for the Padres (63-78). All told, he allowed two runs on four hits in seven innings. "You have to tip your hat to him. He pitched a great game. At the same time, starting with myself, as a team we needed to have a better approach," Giants second baseman Freddy Sanchez said. "I don't think we made adjustments on him throughout the game and I'll be the first one to admit that I'm one of those guys." The Padres have won their last five series, including four on the road, have posted a 25-16 record since July 28 and aren't making things easy on their National League West brethren, the teams in contention for postseason spots. "We're playing teams with a legitimate shot at the playoffs," San Diego second baseman David Eckstein said. "It's important for us to play in games like this. This has been a nice run for us." The Padres completed a 4-2 road swing through Los Angeles and San Francisco and will take Thursday off before resuming their spoiler stretch Friday at PETCO Park against the Colorado Rockies. They'll do so coming off another close victory over the Giants (76-64) thanks in part to LeBlanc, who got 11 ground-ball outs and was efficient -- he threw just eight pitches in the seventh inning alone -- before walking the first two hitters of the eighth inning. That's when Black went to his bullpen for another rookie, Luke Gregerson, who has had about as successful a road trip as the team. Gregerson got pinch-hitter Kevin Frandsen to pop up a bunt for an out, struck out Eugenio Velez on three consecutive nasty sliders and then got Sanchez to pop up to Everth Cabrera to end the inning. "What he did in the eighth ... was bigger than anything I did in the first seven," LeBlanc said. Closer Heath Bell, who saved each of the Padres' four victories on this road trip and has 37 for the season, worked the ninth inning even though Pablo Sandoval gave him a little scare with a line-drive single up the middle to start the inning. "I needed a haircut anyway," Bell said. The Padres got a two-run home run from Adrian Gonzalez, giving him a career high of 37, off Giants pitcher Barry Zito (9-12). Oscar Salazar later added a solo home run in the sixth inning. The only pitch that LeBlanc would probably want back occurred in the third inning when he allowed a two-run home run to leadoff hitter Andres Torres. Other than that, though, he worked fast, relying on better fastball command than he showed a year ago during a miserable September callup and in June in two rough starts. "I would say this was a lot better than in L.A.," LeBlanc said of his last start against the Dodgers when he threw six shutout innings. "This game I felt I was able to set the tempo. This is the first time I've been able to throw it where I wanted to." That's what made it easier for Black to stick with LeBlanc -- who hadn't pitched more than seven innings in any of his starts with Portland or, of course, with the Padres. "He was throwing the ball well and he had given up four hits through seven innings and there wasn't a lot of hard contact," Black said. "He was throwing strikes and in the sixth and seventh, he was very efficient."
Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.