Padres' Germano stays unbeaten

Padres' Germano stays unbeaten

SAN DIEGO -- The last time the Padres were in first place, right-hander Justin Germano was at Triple-A Portland, attempting to straighten out a career that saw him spin through three organizations in less than a year.

That was back on April 5, when the Padres were three games into the season and Germano was only a couple weeks removed from a waiver claim that brought him from the Phillies to the Padres.

It was none other than Germano who pitched the Padres back into first place, as he turned in six solid innings Saturday night to help the Padres to a 6-3 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers.

The Padres (28-21) pulled even with the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League West. Those two teams finished 2006 with identical 88-74 records, with the Padres earning their second straight division title by virtue of a superior head-to-head record.

"We're tied now," said Trevor Hoffman, who earned his 496th career save. "They say Memorial Day is the traditional checkpoint, don't they? I think we'd like to be first at Labor Day."

The Padres were third, three games back on May 12, and have gone 9-2 since.

"We're going to keep playing the schedule," manager Bud Black said. "We're going to keep playing the schedule and continue to do what we are trying to do, which is play baseball the way the Padres play. And let all that other, the standings, take care of themselves."

Germano, who broke into the Majors with the Padres in 2004 but was traded to Cincinnati the following year, is a perfect 3-0 in four starts in place of the injured Clay Hensley. All three wins have come during the Padres' rise from third.

Germano allowed five hits, two runs and no walks Saturday. He struck out four as his ERA rose from 0.47 to 1.08. Geoff Jenkins and Ryan Braun touched him for solo home runs as he allowed more than one run for the first time since his callup. He earned at least a fifth start as he continues to shine as a pro tem member of the rotation.

"He's made a definite statement and it's great to see," Black said. "Just got to keep that focus on your next start. He's come up and done a great job."

Said Germano: "My curve was hanging, but I was able to adjust to start throwing my changeup."

Hensley, mending from a groin strain, has made two Minor League rehabilitation starts and declared himself ready to return to active duty. Black has other ideas, however. He said after the game that Hensley will make one more rehab start. That, of course, buys the brass time to decide what to do with Germano, Hensley and any other player caught in the ripple effect.

"Clay's a vital part of the Padres organization, without a doubt," Black said. "... Hensley is going to be a part of us getting to where we want to be."

So, too, is Hoffman. He quelled talk about the "cranky arm" that caused a stir Friday. He rested the arm that night as Scott Linebrink collected his first save of the year. But Hoffman was in his familiar closer's role Saturday as he recorded the final two outs after Milwaukee put two runners on base against Doug Brocail.

Hoffman survived a throwing error by third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff on what would have been the final out. He issued a bases-loaded walk to bring in one of Brocail's runners but got Rickie Weeks to pop foul to first baseman Adrian Gonzalez to finish the game.

It was Hoffman's 14th save in 16 chances.

"No problem," Hoffman said of his arm. "I had good life on the ball, threw strikes."

Germano was spotted a 2-0 lead when Marcus Giles led off the first inning with a double, and Mike Cameron punched a one-out, two-run home run off Claudio Vargas (3-1). Before that, Cameron was a measly 1-for-14 lifetime against Vargas, with five strikeouts.

After Milwaukee's two homers tied the game 2-2, Jose Cruz Jr. put the Padres ahead for good with a leadoff homer in the bottom of the third. Rob Bowen's 3-for-4 night included an RBI double in the sixth that extended the lead.

Shaun O'Neill is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.