Venable adds to highlight reel in victory

Venable adds to highlight reel in win

SAN DIEGO -- The highlight reel is a work in progress, seemingly growing day by day. But if you didn't know any better, you might think Will Venable's cavalcade of gems -- some offensive, but mostly defensive lately -- were simply playing on a loop.

It seems every day the ball finds Venable in right field, placing him in a precarious spot, and each time, the Padres outfielder makes a diving catch, each one ostensibly better than the last.

It's enough to make you wonder what might happen when he leaves his feet one of these days and actually doesn't make a catch?

"I'm sure that's going to happen," Venable said. "... But that's part of being aggressive."

For now, Venable and the Padres will be perfectly content if the ball lands in Venable's glove and stays there, as it did on Tuesday when his third diving catch in as many games helped the Padres to a victory, this time a 4-1 win over the Nationals at PETCO Park.

Venable's diving catch in the fifth inning on a drive off the bat of Ryan Zimmerman -- with a runner on first base -- helped Clayton Richard get out of a tough jam and helped preserve another victory, the sixth in the Padres' last eight games.

Not to be outdone, Tony Gwynn made a sliding catch on a Zimmerman line drive in the eighth inning to keep the Nationals from putting the Padres in too many sticky situations.

"You're seeing speed make a difference in the outfield," said San Diego manager Bud Black, who also lauded the play of rookie shortstop Everth Cabrera and third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff, who made two tough plays, including one to end the game.

The pitching wasn't bad either, as Richard (4-1) bounced back from a difficult outing in Atlanta last week -- six runs, nine hits in 2 1/3 innings -- to go 6 2/3 innings with four hits allowed, one run and six strikeouts.

The bullpen got the final seven outs, with Luke Gregerson tossing a scoreless inning in the eighth and Heath Bell doing the same in the ninth for his 33rd save.

"I thought his stuff was not all that different from what we've seen," Black said. "But I saw a sharper slider, maybe the best we have seen [from Richard] all season. It neutralized [Adam] Dunn, and he had righties swinging over the top of it."

Richard attributed his success on Tuesday to making "quality pitches early in the count" but didn't let his defense go uncredited.

"Some of the plays made behind me were amazing," Richard said. "As a pitcher ... you feel that if you throw it over the plate, they're going to make a play."

The only run Richard allowed came in the seventh inning, when former Padres catcher Josh Bard lined a home run to left field. But the Friars came back in the bottom of the inning with a solo home run of their own, this off the bat of pinch-hitter Oscar Salazar.

It was Salazar's second pinch-hit homer with the Padres this season and the eighth such home run the team has had in 2009.

The Padres got a run off Washington starter J.D. Martin (3-4) in the second inning as Venable drove in his 30th run of the season with a single. He's hitting .271 this season and has shown power (nine home runs) and the knack for getting clutch hits at critical moments.

Yet, all anyone wants to talk about is his defense.

"He's getting really good jumps," Padres left fielder Chase Headley said. "He's playing fearless and having confidence that he can make the play. Sometimes you just get in that situation where the ball is just within reach."

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