DENVER -- Kevin Correia is pitching like he's trying to finish his first season with the Padres in a flurry.

Correia, who takes the mound on Friday when the Padres open a three-game series in Arizona, is 2-0 with a 1.67 ERA in four starts in September.

Correia has made a career-high 31 starts this season pitching for the Padres, a team he grew up watching as a kid in nearby El Cajon, a San Diego suburb.

Correia, who is 1-2 this season with a 4.50 ERA in four starts against the D-backs, is coming off a start where he threw seven scoreless innings against the Pirates on Sept. 20.

"I threw a lot of strikes," Correia said. "I went deep in some counts early, which got my pitch count up and I was just happy to get some quick outs after that and be able to stay in the game a long time."

When injuries hit the Padres pitching staff early this season, and after Jake Peavy was traded to the White Sox, Correia stepped up and essentially became the ace of the staff, a role he accepts.

"It is what it is," Correia said. "Now I'm the guy with the most experience and I'm the only guy that's been in there all year. I don't think it was a position the Padres wanted to be in, but I think it is what it is right now and I'm happy to be out there and getting us some wins."

San Diego manager Bud Black has had plenty of good things to say about Correia's contributions this season, how durable he's been and how well he's pitched at times.

"What I've seen is the steady improvement, I'm not going to say start-to-start," Black said. "I mean, if you go month-to-month, I'll go even back to Spring Training, when we talked about the delivery and then early, we started talking about what I felt and he self-admitted it was the over-throwing of the fastball.

"[He's] staying within his delivery, trying to stay on line, not spin off pitches and then it moved into incorporating the curveball and the changeup more. You saw that [in] June and July, and then I think here in August and September, I think you've seen the culmination of all those things coming together. Any pitcher will tell you that he wants to improve, but he's made great strides."

Pitching matchup
SD: RHP Kevin Correia (11-10, 4.08 ERA)
Correia continued his strong September in his last outing, pitching seven strong innings as the Padres shut out the Pirates, 4-0, on Sept. 20. Correia allowed six hits, did not walk a batter and struck out five. Correia has set career highs for wins, innings (183) and strikeouts (131) after spending the previous six years bouncing between the starting rotation and various relief roles with San Francisco and winning a total of 14 games.

ARI: RHP Max Scherzer (9-10, 4.08 ERA)
Scherzer will be making his final start of 2009. The organization wants to limit his innings to between 170 and 175, and he is at 165 1/3 heading into this start. His last time out was not one of his better outings. The right-hander allowed four runs (three earned) over 5 1/3 innings. While he only allowed three hits, he walked five and pitched from behind in the count. It's been a season of progress for Scherzer, his first full one in the big leagues, and the team would like him to end it on a positive note. Scherzer gets into problems when he is not aggressive in the strike zone because he falls behind and runs his pitch count up early in the game, which prevents him from working deep into the game.

Tidbits
San Diego third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff, who has missed the past 16 games, first with a strained left calf and now tightness in his back, won't likely play in the upcoming three-game series in Arizona that begins on Friday, manager Bud Black said. ... Utilityman Edgar Gonzalez, who suffered a partially dislocated left shoulder on Monday diving for a ball, won't play in the Arizona series either. ... San Diego closer Heath Bell recorded the 11th 40-save season in franchise history with a scoreless ninth inning on Wednesday. He is just the third Padres pitcher to collect 40 saves in a season, joining Mark Davis (44 in 1989) and Trevor Hoffman, who had a Major League-record nine 40-save seasons with San Diego. ... Reliever Joe Thatcher ranks seventh in the Major Leagues in allowing 17.1 percent of inherited runners to score (7-of-41). He did not allow an inherited runner to score from Aug. 4-28, stranding 19 consecutive runners.

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Up next
• Saturday: Padres (Wade LeBlanc, 2-1, 3.93) at D-backs (Dan Haren, 14-9, 2.90), 5:10 p.m. PT
• Sunday: Padres (Edward Mujica, 3-4, 3.77) at D-backs (Billy Buckner, 2-6, 6.75), 1:10 p.m. PT
• Monday: Off-day