Padres earn eighth straight win

Padres earn eighth straight win

CINCINNATI -- Slumped comfortably in his clubhouse chair, Will Venable attempted to come up with an apt sentiment to describe his thoughts on the eight-game winning streak the Padres have blissfully found themselves in.

The best thing Venable, a Princeton graduate, could come up with was a genuine look of incredulity.

"I just shake my head in disbelief," Venable said.

In all fairness to Venable, who hit a two-run home run on Saturday as the Padres rolled over the Reds, 5-0, at Great American Ball Park, he wasn't just referring to the win streak, the longest of any team in the Major Leagues this season.

Venable was speaking more about the factor that has made all of it possible: pitching.

"It starts with the pitching; they've done a great job," Venable said. "You put up a couple of runs, play some defense and you don't need much more."

It all sounds fairly simple, which is how the Padres (11-6) make winning look these days, thanks to a pitching staff that has a Major League-best 2.73 ERA.

On Saturday, left-handed pitcher Wade LeBlanc (1-0) tossed six scoreless innings against the Reds (7-11), who chased his fastball, slider and curveball in addition to his plus pitch, the changeup, all afternoon.

LeBlanc walked two, allowed three hits and struck out three. He was efficient and did the one thing needed of all pitchers in this ballpark: Keep the ball down.

"[LeBlanc] was throwing the ball on both sides of the plate and changing speeds," Reds third baseman Scott Rolen said. "I'm sure that's what he set out to do, and he did a good job. He gets the ball and throws it. Guys like working behind pitchers like that."

Especially when the fielders are engaged, as was the case during the fourth and the fifth innings, when LeBlanc -- who, by his own admission, has a good pickoff move, but not a great one -- picked off baserunners in each inning.

In the fourth inning, with the Padres leading, 3-0, it was Brandon Phillips who walked, but was picked off with Rolen at the plate. Then, one inning later, it was Jonny Gomes on the wrong end of a pickoff with Ramon Hernandez at the plate.

In both cases, the baserunners went on LeBlanc's first movement. That same thing occurred in his first start last week against Arizona. He's now picked off four would-be basestealers in two games.

"[The coaches] set us up in a position to succeed," LeBlanc said. "I'll take my outs any way I can get them."

There's more to it than that, though.

San Diego bench coach Ted Simmons and the catchers have done, in the estimation of Padres manager Bud Black, an excellent job studying the tendencies of basestealers and what they do in particular situations and when facing certain pitchers.

"What I like is our ability to control the running game," Black said. "Ted and all of our catchers have a nice feel for what the opposition is doing."

And, as Black said, fewer baserunners in this ballpark, which might be the polar opposite of the Padres pitching-friendly ballpark of PETCO Park, is never a bad thing.

"This park scares you a little," Black said.

Not as far as the Padres' offense is concerned, though. After hitting two home runs on Friday, the Padres did so again on Saturday, as Adrian Gonzalez went the other way in the first inning for his fifth home run of the season. Venable's blast to right in the sixth inning, his fourth of the season, made it 3-0.

The home run by Gonzalez, a day after he hit a grand slam, was the 135th of his Padres career and tied him with Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn for fourth place on the club's all-time home run list.

That Gonzalez hit his home run the other way, to left-center field, came as no surprise to Black, who has watched his two-time All-Star first baseman go line-to-line with power before.

"We've seen it in our park; we've seen it around the league," Black said. "His power plays everywhere."

So, too, does strong pitching. Even when the team hasn't hit much during this streak -- remember, they topped the Giants last week, 1-0, with just one hit -- pitching has been a constant.

"It gets back to repetition," Padres pitching coach Darren Balsley said. "It's executing pitches, pitching off the fastball, and we've played fantastic defense during this stretch. And we've been getting early leads, too. That's important."

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