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Branyan, Peavy lift Padres past Cards

Branyan, Peavy lift Padres past Cards

SAN DIEGO -- The Padres' ongoing pursuit for more offensive firepower may have well led them to the one hitter who's been right under their noses all along -- Russell Branyan.

After taking a backseat to struggling rookie third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff -- a player in whom the Padres have much invested -- Branyan might be headed for more playing time after the power display he put on Friday.

Branyan socked two home runs, covering a combined 746 feet, to help the Padres snap a three-game skid as San Diego rolled over the defending World Series champion Cardinals, 7-0, before a crowd of 38,901 at PETCO Park.

And while many of those fans were likely more delighted by the pitching of Jake Peavy, who improved to 5-1 and lowered his ERA to a scant 1.52 with seven scoreless innings, the Padres themselves probably found equal delight in Branyan's prodigious bat.

And, well, probably a little relieved as well.

After losing three consecutive games in Atlanta by a combined four runs, the Padres (19-17) arrived home late Thursday in search of a better offensive effort, and not just on Friday, but for the foreseeable future.

Branyan gave the Padres immediate returns with a two-run, opposite-field home run off Kip Wells (1-7) in the second inning to stake Peavy to an early lead and then provided a fitting end to a blissful night of offense by mashing another two-run home run, this one a mammoth blast over the center-field fence.

"He has got tremendous pop," right fielder Brian Giles said. "When he gets the bat on the ball, he's one of those players that can change games."

The Padres might well have other players capable of changing games with a swing of the bat, though it certainly hasn't happened much before Friday. San Diego entered the game with a .240 team batting average. Among National League teams, only Pittsburgh (.236) and Washington (.227) fared worse.

Could Branyan be the guy to help ignite the Padres' offense? The Padres aren't saying for sure. They feel as though Kouzmanoff is their third baseman of the future, although he is hitting just .115 in 87 at-bats with one home run and nine RBIs.

Branyan, on the other hand, is hitting .278 with three home runs and eight RBIs and he has done it in 51 fewer at-bats.

"The way that Russell will be used will be dependant on how he is swinging," manager Bud Black said. "He's capable of doing things like he did tonight. Russell will get his starts."

But just how many and, a better question might be how often will those starts come? For his part, Branyan took the diplomatic route after the game, saying all the right things. He did acknowledge something the Padres knew already -- he plays better when he's playing consistently.

Branyan has always offered prodigious power -- 114 career home runs for five different teams. However, his high strikeout totals and career .231 batting average have kept him from getting more than 300 at-bats in one season since 2002.

"I would like to see it, but I understand the situation here," Branyan said. "We have got a young player here who looks promising, who's getting his feet wet. But if Bud wants to run me out there, I'm ready for the task."

As was Peavy (5-1), who allowed three hits over seven scoreless innings, striking out 10 to become the first pitcher in franchise history to strike out 10 or more batters over four consecutive starts. He also became the first pitcher in the modern era (since 1900) to record 10 strikeouts in four straight games without pitching more than seven innings in any of them.

In this blissful four-game run, Peavy has a 0.96 ERA with 46 strikeouts over 28 innings with just 12 hits allowed. Peavy is looking every bit as dominant as he did in three years ago when he won the National League ERA title (2.27).

"More of the same," Black said of Peavy. "Tonight, I thought that even though he fell behind in some counts ... he had the ability to get back in the count and get some outs."

Really, about the only downer on Friday for the Padres was when Marcus Giles left the game in the eighth inning after the pain in his back -- the Padres are calling it a muscle strain -- became more than a simple inconvenience. The team will evaluate the injury Saturday, though he does not expect to miss much time.

"It's like someone stuck a pocket knife in my lower back," Giles said. "Running is the worst. The more steps I take, the worse and worse it is."

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

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