SAN DIEGO -- Less than a month ago, Brett Tomko was unemployed and working out at a suburban high school, trying to fix his faulty mechanics while hoping someone would sign him.
The San Diego Padres are glad they took a chance on the once-ineffective right-hander, since his two victories in the past week have helped them get right back in the NL West race.
Tomko, a castoff from the rival Los Angeles Dodgers, pitched six solid innings and rookie Kevin Kouzmanoff delivered two more hits to lead the Padres to their season-high seventh consecutive victory -- 6-3 against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Thursday.
San Diego pulled within a half-game of first-place Arizona, which was idle. It remained 2½ games ahead of Philadelphia in the wild-card race.
San Diego will finish its regular-season home schedule with three games starting Friday against the third-place Colorado Rockies, who are five games behind Arizona and 4½ back in the wild-card race.
If the Padres hold on and claim a playoff spot, Tomko won't be eligible because he wasn't signed until Sept. 4, 10 days after he was designated for assignment by the Dodgers.
"So this is my playoffs," Tomko said after allowing three runs and five hits. He was hit on the right triceps by Matt Kata's one-hopper in the second but remained in the game and retired his final 11 batters.
After struggling with the Dodgers, Tomko (4-11) was designated for assignment to make room for David Wells, who had similarly been let go by the Padres.
The first thing he did after being cast off was to hook up with Dominick Johnson, the pitching coach at Poway High, in the suburb where Tomko lives in the offseason. With Johnson tutoring him and Tomko's brother, Scott, standing in, the right-hander worked on the flaws he had developed.
"I kind of just figured things out a little bit better than what was going on in L.A.," he said.
Tomko said his fastball was topping out at 89 mph with the Dodgers, but he has gotten it back into the 90s.
"It was like, 'All right, there's still stuff left in the gas tank,' " he said. "I never doubted myself or thought I lost it, but when you work on something, it's nice to see the results."
Tomko made three relief appearances with San Diego before throwing six shutout innings against the Giants on Saturday night.
"That's what it takes to keep a streak alive, is for guys to pitch well," manager Bud Black said. "This time of year, it's important that your starting pitching gives you a chance to win a game."
Tomko struck out six and walked none against Pittsburgh. Trevor Hoffman pitched the ninth for his 40th save in 45 chances, extending his own big league record to nine seasons with 40 or more saves. His 522 career saves are most in the majors.
With Matt Morris (9-11) lasting only four innings, the Pirates -- who entered the game tied for last in the NL Central with Houston -- lost their sixth straight.
"You have to give them credit," Pirates manager Jim Tracy said of the Padres. "They beat us four days. I don't think there was anything during the course of the four days that we have to sit here and say we embarrassed ourselves. Their bullpen shut us down for four days."
The Padres limped home a week ago from a 3-6 trip through Arizona, Colorado and Los Angeles that dropped them four games behind the D-Backs. Three victories against last-place San Francisco and then the four-game sweep of the Pirates put the Padres right back in the chase.
Pittsburgh's Carlos Maldonado's homered off the facade of the second deck in left field leading off the third. Tomko allowed three consecutive singles with one out, including Sanchez's tying hit.
San Diego hit back-to-back doubles again, this time with two outs in the third, to take a three-run lead. Khalil Greene's double to left brought in one run and Kouzmanoff drove in two with his double into the gap in right center.
Kouzmanoff, who was hitting .108 on May 7, came into the game hitting .267. He has gone 10-for-26 in the first seven games of this 10-game homestand, with four doubles, a home run, five RBI and four runs scored.
Morris allowed six runs and eight hits.
"Playoff teams are locked in right now and they have momentum," Morris said. "It's hard to come in here and make good pitches and get outs."
- Greg Maddux has a sore lower back but said he "absolutely" will make his scheduled start Sunday against Colorado. Black said Maddux caught his cleat on the mound in the third inning Tuesday night and tweaked his back. He lasted two more innings, enough to get the decision in a 5-3 victory. Maddux had an MRI exam Wednesday.
- Black hopes LF Milton Bradley (strained right oblique) will be back in the starting lineup Friday night or Saturday night.