Baek shuts down Dodgers

Baek shuts down Dodgers

SAN DIEGO -- The path from his worst start of the season to his best encompassed all of six days, but the path from failure to success proved to be a circuitous one for Cha Seung Baek, who faced his tormentors again on Monday.

Was it really less than a week ago when the San Diego pitcher couldn't make it out of the fourth inning against these same Dodgers, a surging bunch who have treated pitchers like Baek rudely during an eight-game win streak?

Six days after allowing seven runs at Dodger Stadium, Baek tossed seven shutout innings as the Padres defeated the Dodgers 4-0 at PETCO Park, allowing Baek (5-9) his first victory at home, as improbable at it might have seemed.

And to think all it took was a trip to Milwaukee to set him straight.

It was during the Padres' recent four-game series against the Brewers when Baek and Padres pitching coach Darren Balsley mapped out a better plan of attack for the South Korean, who was coming off his shortest start (3 2/3 innings).

"I think that he worked very hard between starts on keeping the ball down," Balsley said.

The result was a dramatic dip in his ERA as well, as Baek -- one of a handful of pitchers currently auditioning for spots on the roster next season -- yielded but three hits and two walks to the Dodgers, who missed a chance to increase their lead in the National League West, which still stands at 1 1/2 games over Arizona.

Burying the ball in the strike zone was the main point of emphasis Balsley wanted to get through to Baek, who didn't do much of that against the Dodgers (73-71) his last time on the mound. Apparently, he not only listened but executed that game plan.

"Last time, most balls up," said Baek, who complained that his balance was amiss in that last start.

On Monday, he had the Dodgers on their heels, though he wasn't overpowering (just two strikeouts). What Baek did for the first time since joining the team in a trade from Seattle in May was finally take advantage of his surroundings, getting nine fly-ball outs in what qualifies as a pitcher-friendly ballpark.

"In simple terms, he made a heck of a lot more better pitches," San Diego manager Bud Black said of Baek. " ... He threw some good fastballs and changeups and didn't rely on his curveball and slider as much."

The fastball had plenty of life on it late as well, as Baek struck out Manny Ramirez with a 94 mph pitch on the outside corner for the second out of the sixth inning.

What that resulted in, aside from, well, the results on Monday, was a pitcher that Balsley would like to work with -- not just for these final three weeks of the season but moving ahead into next season.

"He has a very high ceiling," Balsley said. "He's pitched in the big leagues but has never been in a rotation, pitching every five days."

It was certainly a night for streaks at PETCO Park, and not just because Baek won for the first time after entering the game with an 0-7 record and a 5.94 ERA in 10 games pitching in a ballpark that is suited toward pitchers.

And it wasn't just that the Padres (56-88) waylaid the Dodgers for one night. There was the re-emergence of Adrian Gonzalez's power, as the Padres first baseman hit a two-run home run in the first inning off former teammate Greg Maddux (7-12), the first long ball he's hit since Aug. 9, a span of 96 at-bats.

Gonzalez, who has 29 home runs this season, jumped on a changeup up and away, sending the Maddux offering the other way, over the wall in left field three batters after Padres leadoff hitter Brian Giles doubled to start the inning.

Afterward, Gonzalez didn't seem too concerned by his recent lack of power nearly as much as he was kicking himself for expanding the strike zone recently, which is partly why he was hitting just .185 this month going into Monday.

"I've always been a streaky hitter," said Gonzalez, who has 99 RBIs this season. "For the most part, my home runs come in bunches. It's been tough for me lately. Teams haven't been pitching to me. I'm making an effort to be more selective."

Kevin Kouzmanoff drove in two runs and rookie Will Venable raised his average to .353 with two more hits as he continues to get playing time in center field for the injured Jody Gerut.

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