SAN DIEGO -- Nearly five hours before the first pitch on Wednesday, Will Venable ran through a multitude of drills in a nearly empty ballpark -- drills which, oddly enough, involved neither his bat nor his glove.
Testing a lower back strain that kept him from the lineup on Monday and Tuesday, Venable ran forward, sideways and backward. He also hit the cage, which was essentially the litmus test of whether his back would allow him to play.
"It felt like I could use another day," Venable said when asked how he came out of that pregame workout. "But we don't have another day."
Venable's return to the lineup proved fruitful for a team on the periphery of the playoff picture, as he made a homer-saving catch that helped propel the Padres to a 3-0 win over the Cubs before 29,400 at PETCO Park.
Though the Padres (88-70) didn't gain ground on the Giants in the National League West or the Braves in the Wild Card push -- both teams also won on Wednesday -- Venable's grab and five scoreless innings out of pitcher Chris Young made sure San Diego didn't lose any, either.
The Padres remain two games behind the Giants in the division with four games remaining, including three in San Francisco starting on Friday. San Diego also remains 1 1/2 games behind Atlanta in the Wild Card race.
But while the Padres -- who had lost their previous three games -- didn't advance, they might have created a little momentum for themselves going into Thursday's series finale with the Cubs.
Venable actually made two nice catches in center field, the first when he drifted back to the fence to make a grab on a ball Alfonso Soriano hit in the second inning. The catch was made in front of the fence, but it still required Venable to jump to snare a ball that probably would have gone for an extra-base hit.
The second catch, though, was the one everyone -- even the Cubs, if you could imagine -- raved about.
With two outs and Marlon Byrd on first base after an infield single, Aramis Ramirez ran into an 85-mph fastball from Young, sending it toward the fence in left-center, 401 feet from the plate. Venable sprinted far to his right and leaped at the last possible moment, pulling the ball back in play as he landed on his side.
"The first catch was good," Cubs manager Mike Quade said. "The second catch was phenomenal."
Two days ago, Padres manager Bud Black wouldn't have guessed that Venable -- who in July missed 13 games because of a lower back strain -- would be capable of such a catch or a recovery.
"Two days ago he could barely walk around the clubhouse," Black said. "He was getting a ton of treatment the past two days, but I kept my fingers crossed that he would come out of this unscathed.
"Will's an exciting player. We've seen enough of Will in spurts to know that the potential is there to be a great all-around player. Potentially, he can do some great things."
Venable, one of the few Padres who has been hitting well in September, a month that has seen the team go 12-15, just wanted to get back on the field. As he said, the back could have used an extra day, but with so few games left in the regular season, he had to play.
"On the bench, you don't feel like you're contributing," Venable said. "You want so bad to get this team right."
The same sentiment certainly applies to Young (2-0), who won for the first time since his first start of the season, on April 6. Young had been sidelined with a strained right shoulder for 5 1/2 months before returning on Sept. 18. In three starts since, he has allowed two runs in 14 innings.
Young gave up three hits over five innings, with two walks and six strikeouts. He used a mid-80s fastball effectively and got some funny swings on his slider. The nice catches from Venable ensured that he stuck around as long as he did.
"It was a huge lift for everyone," Young said of Venable's feats. "It brought the whole team up."
Relievers Ryan Webb, Luke Gregerson, Mike Adams and Heath Bell combined for four innings to ensure the Padres of their 20th shutout, tying their franchise record, set in 2007. It was Bell's 45th save on his 33rd birthday.
But it might also have been Young's last game with the Padres. The club holds an $8.5 million option on him for 2011 that they surely won't pick up.
Black said that on Wednesday he saw shades of the Chris Young who was an All-Star in 2007.
"He has a knack to make pitches, he has the ability to throw the high fastball to certain hitters who can't get on top of the ball," Black said. "The secondary pitches, there is a variance now in velocity. We saw a pitch in the 60s. That range is helping him. He's changing speeds, and he might not be the C.Y. that we saw a couple of years ago, but I think he's working his way back toward that."
The Padres scored their first run off Cubs starter Randy Wells (8-14) in the second inning, when Chase Headley's infield single allowed Adrian Gonzalez to score from second base. The Padres added a run in the fourth inning when Wells uncorked a wild pitch.
The third and final run came in the fifth inning, when David Eckstein lined a double into the left-field corner.
"We're trying to score early in the game to give the starting pitcher that little lift to take the lead and hopefully hold the lead to the sixth or seventh inning, and today it worked out good," catcher Yorvit Torrealba said.