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HOU@SF: Cain strikes out six over eight innings

On the morning of Sept. 7, 2010, the Padres and Giants were locked in one of the most heated pennant races in baseball -- one that wouldn't be decided until the final day of the season.

Needless to say, the situation is not quite the same a year later. The Giants are still alive in the National League West race, albeit six games behind the first-place Arizona Diamondbacks following Tuesday night's 6-4 Giants win. But the Padres are well into the evaluation period known well by teams out of contention in early September.

"This year, you might see more younger players getting more starts and more playing time," Padres manager Bud Black said.

Despite their second-place standing, that also proved to be true for the Giants on Tuesday. While 31-year-old outfielder Justin Christian and 26-year-old first baseman Brett Pill aren't exactly young, Christian made his first Major League start this season and Pill made his big league debut.

But the Giants will turn to the veteran and workhorse of their sterling rotation Wednesday in right-hander Matt Cain. At only 26 years old, Cain needs to throw four innings against the Padres to reach 200 innings pitched for the fifth straight season -- a strong indicator of Cain's durability and effectiveness.

And Cain has enjoyed a career year in 2011, posting his lowest ERA (2.85) and WHIP (1.07) while holding opposing batters to a mere .219 average -- all of which is poorly reflected in Cain's 11-9 record, a product of the Giants' low-scoring offense.

Cain will line up opposite Padres right-hander Aaron Harang, who is seeking his 13th win of the season. Harang pitched well in his last two outings but couldn't pick up victory No. 13, but it bodes well for the righty that he hasn't lost three consecutive games all season.

In his last outing, Harang lowered his ERA to 3.86 by giving up two earned runs over seven innings while striking out seven and walking none, but he was handed his fifth loss of the season.

"I felt like I was hitting my spots," Harang said.

Giants: Beltran streaking through September
Right fielder Carlos Beltran struggled through poor performance and a difficult injury upon being dealt to the Giants at the Trade Deadline, but he has shown his true value lately. Since coming off the disabled list, Beltran has gone 20-for-47.

In four games this month, the switch-hitting All-Star is batting 11-for-15 with two doubles, two triples, a home run and six RBIs while recording two walks and no strikeouts.

• Making his Major League debut, Pill drilled a two-run homer in his first at-bat Tuesday night, becoming the first Giants player to do so since Will Clark in 1986. Pill hit .312 with 25 home runs and 107 RBIs in 133 games for Triple-A Fresno this season.

Padres: Headley gets some good news
Third baseman Chase Headley visited a hand specialist Tuesday and learned he could start swinging a bat this weekend, even if it's only off a tee or playing flip in the batting cage. Headley hasn't taken a swing in a game since Aug. 6 due to a fractured left little finger that put him on the disabled list two days later.

While there is still no timetable set for when Headley can take batting practice or get back into a game, the revelation was certainly good news.

"It's going in the right direction," Headley said. "It feels like it's been months."

• The Padres added right-handed reliever Erik Hamren to their roster from Triple-A Tuscon on Tuesday. Hamren is the 33rd player on the active roster and yet another rookie the club will look at during the season's final three weeks.

Worth noting
• With the right-handed Harang set to take the mound, expect Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval to be back in the lineup. The switch-hitting Sandoval was limited to substitute duties Tuesday due to a lingering shoulder injury that affects his right-handed swing, going 1-for-2 with a run scored.

• Since returning from the disabled list on Aug. 12, Padres catcher Nick Hundley is batting .391 (27-for-69) with six doubles, four triples, four homers and nine RBIs, scoring 13 runs over that span.

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