Padres close out sweep of Pirates with help of Ryan Ludwick, bullpen

SAN DIEGO -- After sweeping aside the lowly Pittsburgh Pirates, the San Diego Padres can turn their attention to a showdown with the San Francisco Giants in the NL West.

But the Padres refuse to be baited by Jonathan Sanchez's guarantee of a Giants sweep.

Ryan Ludwick hit a two-run homer while Jon Garland and three relievers combined on a four-hitter to lead the Padres to a 3-0 victory Thursday that completed a three-game sweep of the lowly Pittsburgh Pirates.

The Padres protected their 2 1/2-game lead over the Giants in the NL West. Sanchez, who has guaranteed a sweep against the Padres, will start Friday night's series opener against lefty Clayton Richard. San Diego is 7-1 against the Giants this year.

The Padres, who've been in first place for all but three days since April 20, weren't about to make any bold predictions.

"For us to go out and sweep Pittsburgh is a good feeling and we're going to have a a happy flight tonight to San Francisco," said Heath Bell, who pitched the ninth for his major league-leading 34th save in 37 chances. "Tomorrow we'll get ready for San Francisco."

Sanchez made his prediction on Sunday after losing to the Atlanta Braves.

"If he said it tonight then it might mean a little bit more," Bell said. "I think he'll have more pressure on himself now pitching against us tomorrow, just because he predicted something that he can only handle for one game out of three."

Sanchez no-hit the Padres in San Francisco on July 10, 2009. On April 20, he held the Padres to one hit in seven innings but lost 1-0 at Petco Park.

The Padres earned their first-ever season sweep of the Pirates (39-75), who have the worst record in the NL. The Padres (67-46) have the league's best record.

"We're feeling good about ourselves. We're confident," Garland said. "We can't get a little overexcited. We just need to go up there and continue to play the baseball we've been playing and let it go the way it's going to go."

Garland (11-8) held Pittsburgh to one hit in six innings, struck out five and walked four.

"Jon knows how to work his way through a lineup," manager Bud Black said. "He knows how to get himself out of innings if there's a little stress. Even though he wasn't in a lot of trouble today, they had a couple guys on a couple different times."

The Pirates had runners on first and second with two outs in the fourth when shortstop Miguel Tejada went to his left to field pitcher Zach Duke's grounder, spun and threw him out.

"That ball goes into the outfield, that's one, maybe two," Garland said. "If he stops it it's still bases loaded and you're still in a jam, but he got to it and was able to throw him out."

San Diego threw its 14th shutout, second in the majors behind the New York Mets with 17. The Pirates were shut out for the 12th time.

Ludwick gave Garland some breathing room with his third homer this series. With Adrian Gonzalez aboard on a throwing error by shortstop Argenis Diaz, Ludwick hit a 2-0 pitch from Duke into the Padres' bullpen beyond the fence in left-center for a 3-0 lead in the sixth.

Ludwick homered to one of the toughest spots in Petco Park.

"Didn't need it though," the slugger said. "The pitching staff's awesome. It's a lot of fun playing behind these guys. It's pretty impressive the way they go about it, so you can chalk this series up to pitchers. They did an outstanding job."

Said Duke: "It was a decent pitch. He just got enough of it."

Ludwick homered twice on Tuesday night, his first homers since being acquired from St. Louis in a three-team trade on July 31. He has 14 overall.

Garland provided San Diego's other run when he singled leading off the third, advanced on Jerry Hairston Jr.'s sacrifice bunt and scored on Tejada's double into the left-field corner.

Duke (5-11) allowed three runs, two earned, on six hits in six innings. He struck out three and walked two.

"The Padres pitched extremely well this whole series," Duke said. "You know it's going to be a battle. Unfortunately, we came out on the short end of it."

Game notes
Bell has converted 21 save chances since May 29. It's the longest streak of his career and the longest for San Diego since Trevor Hoffman converted 25 straight in 2007. ... The rest of the pitching matchups for the Padres-Giants series are Mat Latos versus Madison Bumgarner on Saturday and Wade LeBlanc against Tim Lincecum on Sunday. ... The Padres had their seventh sweep of the season. ... Coupled with his four hits and walk on Wednesday night, Gonzalez reached base eight straight times with two singles and Diaz's error on Thursday.