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Jason Hammel, Rockies Look To Shrink Padres Lead In NL West

(Sports Network) - With their lead atop the National League's West Division beginning to shrink, the San Diego Padres will be attempting to fend off the hard-charging Colorado Rockies in tonight's middle test of a critical three- game series between the rivals from Coors Field.

Colorado has closed the gap on the first-place Padres by ripping off five consecutive victories, including a wild 10-8 triumph last night that moved the Rockies within two games in the division standings. San Diego, on the other hand, fell for the third time in four contests with Friday's verdict.

The red-hot Rockies are now 7-1 thus far on a 10-game homestand and have shown they're never out of a game during this current surge. The team rallied for nine runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to post a 12-9 win over St. Louis on Tuesday overcame a late three-run deficit to defeat the Cardinals the following night. In Friday's matchup, Colorado scored five times in the seventh inning after being down by a 8-5 count entering the frame.

Jason Giambi's RBI single off Joe Thatcher in the seventh brought the Rockies within 8-6, and Ian Stewart later belted a grand slam off reliever Luke Gregerson (2-5) to put Colorado in front.

"I didn't think I had enough," Stewart said of his opposite-field slam. "When I hit the ball the other way, I'm not always sure if I hit one out."

Stewart had a two-run homer earlier in the night for Colorado, which improved to 30-15 at Coors Field for the season, while Carlos Gonzalez added a two-run blast of his own as part of a 3-for-4 performance at the plate. Relievers Rafael Betancourt and Joe Beimel combined to protect the two-run lead in the eighth before closer Huston Street worked a 1-2-3 ninth for his fourth save.

Jorge De La Rosa, making his first start following a 2 1/2-month stint on the disabled list, lasted just 4 1/3 innings for the Rockies and was tagged for seven runs (five earned) on six hits.

Padres starter Kevin Correia didn't fare much better, although he did record eight strikeouts over the first five frames. The right-hander surrendered five runs -- all in the third inning -- and homers to Stewart and Gonzalez.

"You have to throw all your pitches and hope you execute," a disappointed Correia said afterward. "What else can you do, especially when you're facing a good offensive team?"

San Diego received a two-run homer from All-Star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez in a losing cause and three hits and two RBI from Aaron Cunningham.

The Rockies have now won seven of the 10 meetings between these teams so far in 2010 and took two of three from the Padres at Coors Field back in April.

Jason Hammel will attempt to continue the Rockies' home success, as well as improve upon his own outstanding numbers at Coors Field, when he takes the mound this evening. The right-hander has been tough to beat in Denver this season, having amassed a 5-1 record and a 3.21 earned run average in nine starts at the usually hitter-friendly venue.

Hammel didn't get a win in his most recent home assignment, but pitched well enough to do so in Sunday's matchup with fellow NL West member San Francisco. He yielded just two runs -- both coming on back-to-back homers to start the eighth inning -- and struck out eight over seven-plus frames in a no-decision against the Giants. The effort ran his unbeaten streak to eight straight starts, with Hammel's last loss coming on May 21.

The 27-year-old also owns a recent win over the Padres, having bested them on the road on June 29 by tossing six innings of three-run ball. Hammel is 1-0 over seven career appearances (six starts) against San Diego, despite a mediocre 5.17 ERA over the course of those games.

Wade LeBlanc opposed Hammel in that June 29 clash and will do so again for the Padres tonight. The left-hander was saddled with the loss that night after permitting three runs in 6 1/3 innings, although he gave up only two hits and matched a career best with eight strikeouts.

LeBlanc also performed well in his latest start, one which also failed to result in a victory. The 25-year-old held Houston to a run and three hits through 6 1/3 innings this past Sunday, leaving the contest with a 2-1 lead that his team's bullpen failed to hold.

The University of Alabama product has had his share of hard-luck outcomes during the course of the season, having compiled a 4-6 record that doesn't reflect a solid 3.10 ERA. LeBlanc will be trying to end a four-start winless streak this evening, with his last triumph having taken place on June 12.

LeBlanc is 1-1 with a 4.42 ERA in three lifetime starts against the Rockies, with the lone win coming at Coors Field in September of 2008.