LOS ANGELES -- It was about a month ago, before a routine between-starts bullpen session, when Padres pitching coach Darren Balsley asked pitcher Clayton Richard if there was anything specific he wanted to work on.
It turns out, Balsley and Richard had the same thought in mind.
"He wanted to work on getting the ball down, sinkers down, hitting a low target," Balsley said. "Since then, he's been very focused on that. It's been his priority."
In his seven starts since that epiphany of sorts, Richard is 4-3 with a 2.68 ERA. And that includes one bad start against the Reds when he allowed six earned runs on July 7.
Richard, who had 14 ground-ball outs in a loss to the Dodgers on Friday, has a ground-ball rate of 54.4 percent, according to FanGraphs. That's up considerably from the 46.1 ground-ball rate he had in 2010, when he won 14 games.
"I think Clayton has realized what kind of pitcher he is," Balsley said. "Before he was a young kid with good velocity and movement who used both sides of the plate and worked quickly. I think he's realized he's a pitcher with great movement down, more of a ground-ball pitcher who can also jam you inside and climb the ladder.
"Those are the type of outs he wants to get now."
Amarista's versatility a 'great advantage' for Padres
LOS ANGELES -- In the two months since he was recalled from Triple-A Tucson, Alexi Amarista has played second base, third base, shortstop and all three outfield positions for the Padres.
Don't expect that to change in the second half as the Padres continue to take a long look at Amarista, the mighty mite who was obtained from the Angels in the Ernesto Frieri deal on May 3.
"I think with Alexi, that's a great advantage for us ... his versatility and us feeling comfortable with him anywhere in the diamond," Padres manager Bud Black said. "We've got trust in him as an outfielder, trust in him as an infielder. He gives us maneuverability every day to do things, whether it's a double-switch or pinch-hit and stay in the game.
"We feel comfortable with him in any spot. Because of what we've seen, he's a very good defender."
And Amarista can swing the bat a little, too. He wasn't in the starting lineup on Sunday but is hitting .276 in 43 games since the trade with four home runs and 18 RBIs. Thirteen of his 32 hits for the Padres have gone for extra bases.
And, as Black said, he's not tentative about moving around the diamond like some other players might be.
"A lot of guys are a little tentative if they move out of their comfort zone," Black said. "But he's not. He wants to play regardless of what position."
Hinshaw has reason to savor first win since '08
LOS ANGELES -- Lost in the wild finish of Saturday's 7-6 win was that Padres reliever Alex Hinshaw earned his first Major League victory in four seasons.
Better still for Hinshaw, it came for the team he grew up rooting for even though he essentially was raised in Dodgers territory in Claremont, Calif., which is about 45 minutes east of Dodger Stadium.
"Very cool," he said. "I wanted to keep a level head, especially with how we won the game, but to do that growing up a Padres fan ... that was great."
Hinshaw likes to tell the story of how one of his first experiences at a Major League game came at Dodger Stadium, a game that shaped his future allegiance.
"My father actually took me to my first baseball game and they were playing the Braves," Hinshaw said. "David Justice hit a home run and it bounced off my hand. I got booed and got stuff thrown at me by fans because I was cheering that I almost caught a ball.
"I guess that the Dodgers fans took it as I was cheering for David Justice. I was getting popcorn thrown at me. That was a sour note. The next game I went to there was against the Padres. I just sort of fell in love with their colors and fell in love with Tony Gwynn."
Prior to Saturday's victory, Hinshaw's last big league win was June 1, 2008, while he was pitching for the Giants. Oddly enough, that victory was against the Padres, as the Giants scored three runs in the 10th inning off closer Trevor Hoffman.
There was still a buzz Sunday in the Padres' clubhouse after Saturday's 7-6 victory, a game that saw San Diego score twice in the ninth inning as Everth Cabrera stole home and Will Venable followed him there as pitcher Kenley Jansen was charged with an error. Manager Bud Black said the play Cabrera made to go from first to third base on a single to left field was impressive, though not nearly as daring as the last play when he bolted from third base to score.
"Cabbie's a daring baserunner," Black said. "We all know that we'd rather have players who are pushing the envelope rather than not."
Outfielder Chris Denorfia turned 32 on Sunday. He and second baseman Logan Forsythe wouldn't have been in the starting lineup had the Dodgers not scratched pitcher Chad Billingsley. But when lefty Chris Capuano was picked to fill in, Black opted to get two more right-handed bats in the lineup.