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Notes: Hairston more patient at leadoff

Notes: Hairston patient at leadoff

SAN DIEGO -- Scott Hairston had two hits in Tuesday's victory over the Pirates, though he certainly felt a lot better about one plate appearance that actually didn't result in a hit.

"I had two hits last night, but I think the at-bat I was proud of the most was the walk I had to start the first inning," Hairston said. "We had a pretty good inning, scored a few runs. Getting on base ... that's what a good leadoff hitter does."

Hairston hit leadoff for the first time for San Diego during the Padres' 5-3 victory over the Pirates at PETCO Park, when right fielder Brian Giles got a rare night off.

The Padres turned to Hairston, who actually has considerable Major League experience hitting leadoff, though he never did so in the Minor Leagues.

Hairston is hitting .471 in 17 at-bats at the top of the order this season, though 15 at-bats came with Arizona. For his career, Hairston is a .264 hitter while batting leadoff in 178 at-bats, all but two with the Diamondbacks.

"I think he's a good option for us," Padres manager Bud Black said. "He has some strike zone discipline. He has a little speed at the top of the order. He's a guy you have to make good pitches to. I wouldn't say he's a prototypical leadoff hitter, but he's a nice option."

Hairston said a change in the order -- he typically bats in the lower part of the order -- is more than just a matter of hitting sooner. It's also represents a change in approach, even though he's leery of trying to change too much.

"You do have a different responsibility as a leadoff hitter. I didn't go outside of my realm completely, but I told myself that I need to be a lot more selective and take pitches when I need to," Hairston said. "There's certain situations where, as a leadoff hitter, you need to take pitches. It's not that drastic of a change, but it's not something I'm used to. I guess that's all part of the experience."

Hairston's walk to start the game marked the beginning of a rough inning for Pittsburgh starting pitcher Tom Gorzelanny, who, after being staked to a 2-0 lead, promptly allowed three runs in the bottom of the inning.

And it all started with a walk to Hairston.

"I worked myself into a good count and got a walk," Hairston said. "I think walking at least once, as a leadoff hitter, is something to shoot for."

Maddux the master: Getting pitcher Greg Maddux to talk about himself is about as easy as coaxing a walk from the future Hall of Famer these days. But getting Black to say some nice things in support of his pitcher isn't difficult at all.

On Wednesday, Black talked about Maddux's blissful streak of 59 2/3 innings without a walk that ended on Tuesday when Maddux walked Jason Bay in the third inning, though that was essentially because Maddux was pitching around Bay.

"He probably has the best control and command of any pitcher I've been around," Black said. "Tremendous streak ... he has an amazing ability to throw strikes and to have the confidence to face a lineup and face hitters game after game and not walk anybody, not pitch around guys."

Maddux walked Bay with two outs in the third inning to load the bases, a move that was essentially intentionally unintentional, so that he could face Ronny Paulino, who popped up to end the inning.

"He pitched real careful to Bay. Bay has good career numbers. Depending on the type of game, Greg doesn't care about the streak, he cared about winning the game," Black said. "Could he have thrown a strike to Bay? Yes. Was it in the best interest of him and the team, probably, maybe pitch Bay tough and go after Paulino? Probably."

The return of Milton: It looks as if outfielder Milton Bradley -- who has missed the last 11 games with a strained right oblique -- could be back in the San Diego starting lineup on Friday against the Rockies.

Bradley took part in hitting drills Wednesday that included early batting practice on the field at PETCO Park.

"He's doing well," Black said. "He hit early in the cage to get loose. I think he swung the bat well. I think his return is imminent."

Black indicated that the switch-hitting Bradley is currently more comfortable hitting from the right side of the plate, which is natural considering he strained his right oblique while swinging left-handed on Sept. 7 in Colorado.

"I know that's the side he feels the best at now," Black said. "Eventually he'll be able to swing from the left. There's a good chance you'll see him from the right side. We have some left-handed starting pitchers over the weekend and into early next week."

The Padres face a left-handed pitcher on Friday (Colorado's Franklin Morales), Sunday (Jeff Francis) and Monday (San Francisco's Barry Zito).

Friar notes: The Padres are expected to release their preliminary schedule for the 2008 season on Thursday. San Diego's Interleague opponents are expected to be the New York Yankees (road), Cleveland Indians (road), Minnesota Twins (home) and the Detroit Tigers (home). The Padres will also play home-and-home series against their Interleague rivals, the Seattle Mariners. ... By earning their 82nd victory on Monday, the Padres are guaranteed of a winning season for the 14th time in franchise history. It's the fourth year in a row the team has finished above .500.

On deck: The Padres conclude their four-game series against the Pirates at 12:35 p.m. on Wednesday as Brett Tomko (3-11, 5.40) gets his second start. Pittsburgh will counter with Matt Morris (9-9, 4.84). San Diego will begin a three-game series against the Rockies on Friday.

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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