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Richard's first shutout helps Padres keep pace

Richard's first shutout helps Padres keep pace

LOS ANGELES -- Around the fifth inning of Tuesday's game at Dodger Stadium, the Padres' bullpen started to stir, as relievers slowly pulled themselves out of their chairs, stretching their legs and arms in anticipation of getting in the game.

This happens every night, Padres closer Heath Bell said, and Tuesday was no different.

Well, sort of.

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"We started talking about it in the fifth inning, about how we might be in there at some point," Bell said. "Then we looked up and saw [starter Clayton Richard] had 74 pitches. Then we realized that no one was going in there."

Richard not only gave the Padres' bullpen a rare night off, but his first shutout kept San Diego within a half-game of the Giants in the National League West, as the Padres rolled over the Dodgers, 6-0, before a crowd of 44,166.

Richard, just six days removed from his worst start as a Major Leaguer, punctuated the victory by getting Reed Johnson to bounce into a game-ending double play in the ninth inning, allowing the Padres to also pull within a game of the Braves in the Wild Card.

"We talk about how this time of the year ... that wins are hard to come by," Padres manager Bud Black said. "It was great to see. I think all of us know that [this type of start] is in Clayton. He holds his stuff and he doesn't wear down."

He didn't on Tuesday, though he had six days to stew over a start in Colorado last week in which he allowed eight runs on 11 hits and was gone after three innings. But here is the funny thing with Richard: He made nearly no changes, mechanical or otherwise, between starts.

Instead, Richard (13-8) pounded the strike zone and got the Dodgers (73-78) to put the ball in play early in the count. He got 14 ground-ball outs and got the Dodgers hitters to bounce into three double plays, including the one by Johnson, after he allowed two hits during the ninth inning.

"It was a long five or six days or whatever is was," Richard said. "Those are the type of starts where you wish you could get on the mound the next day. I had to wait a little bit longer with the day off but was excited for the opportunity. I'm excited where we're at."

Richard, who joins Mat Latos as the only other Padres pitcher to throw a shutout this season, allowed eight singles, two walks and had six strikeouts. Richard needed 105 pitches to get 27 outs, leaving Bell and the rest of the relievers blissfully bored beyond belief.

"It was like a day off," Bell said.

Not that anyone could have predicted this, especially because Richard was coming off a miserable start at Coors Field, but Padres pitching coach Darren Balsley had a pretty good idea Richard would be on his game before he even stepped on the mound.

Down in the visiting bullpen before the game, Balsley watched what he described as Richard's best pregame warmup of the season. For some pitchers, a good pregame doesn't always equate to a strong performance in a game. For Richard, though, it surely can.

"He was down and sharp with all of his pitches," Balsley said. "And he had a good feel for his pitches. For some guys, that doesn't mean a lot. But it does with Clayton. I didn't want to jinx anything so I didn't mention it to Buddy."

Richard got all the offensive backing he would need in the third inning as Ryan Ludwick jumped on a 2-2 cut fastball from Dodgers starter Chad Billingsley (11-11), sending it to left field to score two runs.

"I was fortune enough that he left something over the plate there," said Ludwick, who has knocked in five runs in his last three games.

The Padres added three more runs in the fifth inning, on two singles, two hit batters, one intentional walk and a sacrifice fly. That proved to be plenty as Richard continued to roll.

"It looked so easy for him," said Dodgers manager Joe Torre, whose team was officially eliminated from playoff contention. "We couldn't get anything going. Give him credit, he works fast and throws strikes."

As for that start last week in Denver, Balsley said that wasn't nearly as bad as it might have appeared on paper. There were a handful of bloop hits and a broken-bat hit along the way that made that a dismal outing.

"It wasn't as bad as it looked ... we just turned the page," Balsley said. "Clayton has great tunnel vision. He knows what he needs to do to keep himself in the game."

Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. Keep track of @FollowThePadres on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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