Padres beat White Sox 5-3 for 10th win in 12 games

PEORIA, Ariz. (AP) — Wade LeBlanc is feeling confident, and it's only making the San Diego Padres' decision that much more difficult.

LeBlanc, one of several pitchers putting up strong numbers in a battle for the final two spots in the rotation, improved to 3-0 and lowered his spring ERA to 1.80 in a 5-3 win over the Chicago White Sox on Thursday.

Only one of two runs LeBlanc allowed was earned, and he struck out five over six innings against a veteran Chicago lineup.

It was the 10th win in 12 games for the Padres, who got two hits and two RBIs from third baseman Chase Headley.

White Sox starter Mark Buehrle earned a no-decision after allowing two unearned runs over five innings pitched.

"I think the more you see guys like that you know your stuff can play up here regardless of how hard you throw or what kind of pitches you have," LeBlanc said.

Once a highly touted prospect in the Padres' farm system, LeBlanc had fallen far down the depth chart as he struggled with his command in his first seven big league appearances — accumulating a 9.24 ERA.

But several key injuries to pitchers required the Padres to recall LeBlanc to the majors in August 2009 and he didn't waste the opportunity.

Finally heeding the lessons of manager Bud Black, who has stressed fastball command to the left-hander the past two seasons, LeBlanc went 3-0 with a 2.57 ERA in seven starts.

On Thursday, LeBlanc repeatedly went after hitters, even refusing to pitch around Andruw Jones with a 3-0 count in the sixth inning.

"I think Wade's realizing the importance of (fastball command) and what that means to his game with his changeup being such a big pitch for him," Black said. "He's pitching aggressive."

LeBlanc said he used to rely strictly on his changeup when he got into trouble, but now he's relying more on his fastball.

"I had all the confidence in the world in my offspeed stuff, zero confidence in my fastball, and I think that showed, especially when I got up here the first couple of times," LeBlanc said.

"I think I'm coming along and I'm starting to get there — starting is the key word."

Buehrle's glove might have kept him from allowing more than two runs in the first inning. With none on and one out, Buehrle, who won his first Gold Glove in 2009, snagged a line drive off the bat of Jerry Hairston Jr. even though he never clearly saw the ball.

"It was one of those (where) I didn't see it at first," Buehrle said. "I mean, I'd seen it but didn't see it. I think it was more of a reaction play than anything."