PITTSBURGH -- Kevin Correia didn't expect to become the ace of his hometown team's pitching staff when he signed with the San Diego Padres as a free agent last winter.
Yet that is what the native of San Diego has become, turning in another outstanding September start Sunday with seven strong innings as the Padres beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 4-0.
Correia (11-10) allowed six hits, did not walk a batter and struck out five. He is 2-0 with a 1.67 ERA in four starts this month.
It is a strong finish to a season in which he has set career highs for wins, innings (183) and strikeouts (131) after spending the previous six years bouncing between the starting rotation and various relief roles with San Francisco and winning a total of 14 games.
With Jake Peavy having been traded to the Chicago White Sox on July 31 and the Padres in a youth movement, Correia is their top starter.
"It's just that I'm the guy with the most experience in the rotation and I'm the only guy that's been in there all year," Correia said. "I don't think it's the position the Padres wanted to be in but I'm happy to be in the position to get us some wins."
While Padres manager Bud Black doesn't expect Correia to be his team's long-term ace he has been quite pleased with his performance.
"When you have a guy who is pitching to the caliber that Kevin is and making every start, it is what you strive for in your five-man rotation," Black said. "It's to have five guys who take the ball and give you a chance to win and he's done that. He's been a rock."
Heath Bell struck out the last two batters for his National League-leading 39th save in 44 opportunities. Shawn Gallagher started the ninth after Luke Gregerson pitched the eighth but Bell was called on with one out after Lastings Milledge singled.
Bell got Steve Pearce and Neil Walker to complete San Diego's sixth shutout. The Pirates have been blanked 15 times.
The Pirates were playing without three-quarters of their infield as first baseman Garrett Jones (strained right shoulder), second baseman Delwyn Young (lower back spasms) and third baseman Andy LaRoche (flu) did not start. Pittsburgh also went 1-for-10 with runners on base.
"Correia pitched well but we're not a very good offensive club right now," Pirates manager John Russell said. "We're missing some guys but we're not taking a good approach with runners on base. We're having too many one-pitch at bats with guys on base and you're not going to score runs that way."
Oscar Salazar had three of the Padres' nine hits, including a run-scoring double in the fifth inning, as San Diego improved to 30-20 in its last 50 games since a 37-62 start. The Pirates lost for the 19th time in their last 22 games and need to win seven of their last 15 games to avoid a 100-loss season.
Paul Maholm (8-9) gave up three runs and nine hits in six innings. He walked three and struck out three in dropping to 2-5 with a 4.27 ERA in 12 starts since the All-Star break.
The Padres snapped Maholm's streak of 11 consecutive scoreless innings with a two-run second.
Everth Cabrera led off with a single, took third on David Eckstein's double and scored on a sacrifice fly by Adrian Gonzalez. Eckstein scored the second run when catcher Ryan Doumit made a wild throw to first base while attempting to complete an inning-ending 5-2-3 double play on Edgar Gonzalez's grounder.
Back-to-back doubles by Chase Headley and Salazar with two outs in the fifth pushed San Diego's lead to 3-0. Cabrera drove in the final run with a sacrifice fly in the ninth.
The Pirates put a runner in scoring position with less than two outs just once when Lastings Milledge doubled with one out in the fourth. However, he was left stranded as Doumit and Brandon Moss both grounded out to first base.
- Gregerson has pitched 17 scoreless innings in a row since Aug. 16.
- San Diego 3B Kevin Kouzmanoff missed his sixth straight game with a strained left calf muscle, though he was able to take batting practice Sunday. There is an outside chance he could play Monday night in the last game of the four-game series.