SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Barry Zito has been on quite a roll since coming back from the disabled list, and his timing couldn't be better for the Giants.
All it took was a rehab trip to the minor leagues to get San Francisco's left-hander back on track.
Zito won his third straight start, allowing one run and four hits over eight innings, and the Giants held on to beat the San Diego Padres 2-1 on Thursday night.
``Whenever you go to the lower levels in the minor leagues you remember the process to get here,' Zito said. ``You forget sometimes after being here for so many years that there's a huge line of guys behind every one of the guys in here that are waiting to take somebody's job. So you go down there and you enjoy the game a little more.'
It hadn't been much fun at all for Zito after he signed a seven-year, $126 million contract in 2007. He averaged 10 wins a season, had a 4.45 ERA with the club heading into this season and was being talked about as the odd man out in the Giants rotation after impressive starts by youngsters Ryan Vogelsong and Madison Bumgarner.
Now the argument could be made that Zito is San Francisco's hottest pitcher.
Zito had a season-high seven strikeouts, did not walk a batter and retired 14 of the final 16 hitters while beating the Padres for the first time in nearly three years.
``More than anything it's the confidence he's going out there with,' Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. ``I think he's got a better perspective on baseball in general. He's just getting back to going out there having fun and competing and not putting that added pressure on himself.'
Zito, who last pitched eight innings in a 1-0 win over the New York Mets on July 16, 2001, left to a standing ovation from the sold-out crowd at AT&T then watched Brian Wilson clinch the win with his 25th save in 29 tries.
Eli Whiteside homered and Pablo Sandoval extended his career-high hitting streak to 18 games while helping San Francisco to its second straight win over its division rival after losing the first two games of the series.
Ryan Ludwick homered for San Diego, who fell to 3-4 on its 10-game road trip.
Zito (3-1) had gone 0-6 with a 5.79 ERA in his nine previous starts against the Padres before his most impressive outing of the season helped the NL West-leading Giants to their fourth win in the last nine games.
``We had some good swings, he just had us off balance,' San Diego manager Bud Black said. ``It's what he does. I've been watching Barry since his rookie year and his style hasn't changed. The only thing different I can see is maybe three or four miles off his fastball.'
Zito's solid outing helped San Francisco to its 50th win, the first time the Giants have reached that milestone before the All-Star break since 2003.
Zito breezed through the first three innings before Chris Denorfia singled leading off the fourth. Denorfia stole second and advanced to third on Jason Bartlett's single.
Bartlett was thrown out trying to steal second and spiked San Francisco's Bill Hall, knocking him out of the game with a laceration on his left leg. Emmanuel Burriss replaced Hall and promptly caught Chase Headley's popup to left, and Zito struck out Ludwick to end the inning.
The Giants, who dropped three straight before beating San Diego a day earlier on Nate Schierholtz's walkoff home run in the 14th inning, gave Zito just enough support.
Whiteside homered leading off the third, only the second given up this season by San Diego starter Cory Luebke. It was also the first run Luebke (2-3) allowed since moving into the rotation after beginning the year in the bullpen.
``It wasn't a terrible pitch but he stayed back and hit it out of the park,' said Luebke, who matched his season-high with eight strikeouts. ``In retrospect it probably wasn't the right pitch to throw, but that happens.'
Miguel Tejada doubled off Luebke in the sixth, took third on Sandoval's hit and scored on Pat Burrell's soft single to right to make it 2-0.
Ludwick hit his 11th homer with one out in the seventh, but Zito retired the next two batters then survived a scare in the eighth when Rob Johnson hit a fly ball to deep center. Zito squatted on the mound as the ball was in the air then popped back up when center fielder Andres Torres made the catch.
Notes: After the game San Diego announced that C Nick Hundley will undergo arthroscopic surgery on his right elbow and will be placed on the DL. C Luis Martinez has been recalled and will join the team in Los Angeles for its three-game series against the Dodgers. ... Giants 2B Freddy Sanchez has progressed to hitting off a tee but Bochy says a bigger test will come when Sanchez (dislocated right shoulder) begins throwing again. ... IF/OF Brandon Belt was activated from the DL and optioned to Triple-A Fresno (PCL). ... Tejada returned to shortstop but Bochy says the veteran infielder will continue to see time at second base. ... San Diego RHP Aaron Harang (right foot contusion) will come off the DL and start Saturday against the Dodgers. ``The foot, in his words, is a non-issue,' Black said. ... Wilson handed out over 1,000 gloves to children in the Junior Giants program. The team is also selling limited edition Willie McCovey bobblehead dolls through Sunday as part of the Junior Giants Stretch Drive program.
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