PITTSBURGH -- Spoiler. It's a term that's overused this time of year, when a team playing out the string faces a contender. But all month long, and particularly as the Padres start a three-game series in Colorado on Tuesday night, that's exactly what San Diego can be.

Earlier this month, the Padres went to Los Angeles and San Francisco, then hosted the Rockies in a span of nine games. They went 6-3 and won all three series. Clearly, it's a role San Diego is enjoying playing these days.

"I think it's something you can't ignore, especially when you're on the road, the atmosphere, you can tell it's an important game," outfielder Will Venable said. "More than anything, subconsciously, you might gear up a little more for it.

"At the same time, we have our own things going on in this clubhouse. We're trying to have a strong finish for our season for ourselves, to make a push and continue to build something for next year. The idea of being a spoiler, if that ends up happening, is great, but for me anyway, it's not a driving force in my motivation."

Although it's true the Padres can affect just how the National League postseason plays out with these three games in Colorado, followed by five at home -- two with the Dodgers and three against the Giants to close out the season -- playing all these contenders has value beyond trying to wreck their October plans. With a youth movement in full force, what better opportunity to test their mettle against the division's best in a more amped up atmosphere?

"For this club, it's especially important because we decided to go young," veteran infielder David Eckstein said. "You're seeing a lot of guys up right now who are going to be with us next year, and they really haven't had any type of experience to play in front of hostile crowds or intense competition that really means something. We're actually using these games as where we want to be next year, in that playoff hunt, in that playoff run, fighting for one of those spots. Colorado has a lot of things on the line. We have to learn how to play in those situations.

"More than just that, it's the measuring stick for us where we need to get to. These are the clubs that we need to beat to be able to compete next year."

Manager Bud Black doesn't like the term spoiler and was quick to caution about getting too up for an important game. The point he has been trying to drive home to his younger players is to play every game -- Spring Training, April, or one during a playoff drive -- the same way. Don't play down to a team that's out of it, and don't get too excited for one that's competing. Learning that could help them, just as playing against these playoff-hungry teams, be prepared for competing themselves in the near future.

"If you do get in a situation where games are extremely important or magnified, it shouldn't change how you play," Black said. "I don't like to use the word spoiler. I want our guys to know what's at stake and what it means to play in these games and get used to it. So if we get in a situation where we're contending, hey, we've played at that level."

Pitching matchup
SD: RHP Edward Mujica (3-4, 3.36 ERA)
Mujica is scheduled to make his third start after pitching in 63 games as a reliever. In his last start, on Sept. 16 against the D-backs, Mujica tossed 4 2/3 innings and allowed two runs on six hits as San Diego won, 6-5. He recorded five strikeouts and did not issue a walk.

COL: LHP Jorge De La Rosa (15-9, 4.17 ERA)
De La Rosa shut down the Giants on three hits in eight scoreless innings while pitching the best game of his career. In the sixth inning, De La Rosa faced men at second and third, then struck out the top three hitters in the Giants' order. He finished with a fanning of Pablo Sandoval after an eight-pitch at-bat. De La Rosa has gone 15-3 after an 0-6 start.

Tidbits
The good news is that Kevin Kouzmanoff's left calf was feeling much better. The bad news is the third baseman "tweaked his back," according to manager Bud Black after the game against the Pirates on Sunday afternoon. It didn't appear too serious -- no MRI or scans were planned -- but since he wasn't able to work out on the field on Monday in Pittsburgh, it seemed unlikely he would be ready to go for the opener in Colorado on Tuesday.

Tickets
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On the Internet
 MLB.TV
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television
• 4 San Diego

On radio
• XPRS 1090, XEMO 860 (Español)

Up next
• Wednesday: Padres (Tim Stauffer, 4-7, 3.56) at Rockies (Jason Marquis, 15-11, 3.84), 5:40 p.m. PT
• Thursday: Padres (Clayton Richard, 8-5, 4.69) at Rockies (TBD), 5:40 p.m. PT
• Friday: Padres (Kevin Correia, 11-10, 4.08) at Diamondbacks (Max Scherzer, 9-10, 4.08), 6:40 p.m. PT