After an off-day on Thursday, the Padres will take the field against San Francisco on Friday looking to capture their longest winning streak of 2014 while the Giants look to halt a tailspin that has their National League West lead in jeopardy.
The Giants have the worst record in the Majors since June 9, winning just five of their last 22 games entering Friday, a stretch that has trimmed their considerable lead in the division. That includes six losses over their last seven games and two losses in their most recent three-game series against St. Louis. San Diego, meanwhile, has won four in a row to leap from last in the division to third.
Matt Cain and Eric Stults will both be pitching against their rivals for the third time this season, with each having one solid start and one poor outing.
Stults gave up just three hits and one run in six innings against the Giants on April 19, then was shelled by San Francisco 10 days later for seven hits and five runs in 2 2/3 innings.
The left-hander has the worst ERA (5.36) among eligible NL starters, but he has improved in his last two starts (four earned runs over 12 1/3 innings) after incorporating faster tempo and a higher leg kick into his delivery. He's still taken the loss in his past six outings, however.
"I felt like overall my stuff, the last three or four starts, has started to improve," Stults said. "Where I'm at now as opposed to where I was my first five to seven starts, I feel like there's been significant improvement."
Cain didn't give up any earned runs in seven innings against San Diego on April 18, but the Padres rebounded to score six runs against him in 7 1/3 innings just last week.
Cain showed improvement the start after that, though, pitching seven scoreless innings and allowing six hits in a no-decision against the Reds. The Giants have averaged 3.25 runs across his 13 starts, contributing to his subpar 1-6 record.
Additionally, Cain has struggled against San Diego over his career, carrying a 7-13 record against the Padres.
The veteran right-hander, a key member of San Francisco's World Series squads in 2010 and '12, isn't too concerned about the Giants' cold stretch as teams start to ease into the All-Star break.
"It's a long season; it's going to happen," Cain said. "You have to be resilient. I think [how we respond] is going to show what kind of team we have. We know the guys we have in here are able to do that."
Padres: Cabrera to DL, Conrad called up
Everth Cabrera was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a strained left hamstring prior to Wednesday's series finale with the Reds.
Padres manager Bud Black had said on Tuesday that the team would wait until Friday to re-evaluate Cabrera, but San Diego decided to make the move now after the soreness became progressively worse since the initial injury occurred late in Monday night's game.
"After talking with Cabby before the game yesterday and last night, we felt that this was going to be at least seven to 10 days, on the short side," Black said. "And legs being a big part of Cabby's game, we felt as though we better make the move here and not play [a man] short."
The Padres purchased the contract of journeyman infielder and San Diego native Brooks Conrad in a corresponding roster move. With Triple-A El Paso this year, Conrad posted a slash line of .275/.347/.526 with 18 homers, tied for second most in the Pacific Coast League.
"He's got some thump in his bat, as evident by what he's done in Triple-A so far," Black said. "So he gives us a little bit of bat on the bench when he's not playing, [as a] switch-hitter."
While Cabrera is out, Alexi Amarista will get the majority of playing time at shortstop, with Irving Falu also getting a start now and then.
Giants: Belt set to return in No. 2 spot
Manager Bruce Bochy trotted out a new-look lineup on Thursday afternoon. He'll do so again on Friday.
Bochy confirmed Thursday morning that first baseman Brandon Belt will be activated before the team's game against the Padres on Friday. The plan is for Belt to serve as the team's No. 2 hitter behind newly inserted leadoff man Hunter Pence.
Friday will mark exactly eight weeks since Belt fractured his left thumb on May 9. Belt, who was initially estimated to be sidelined for six weeks, hit .264 with nine home runs and 18 RBIs in 35 games before the injury.
As he deals with a sputtering offense, Bochy turns to Belt in hope of a spark. Pence doesn't think Belt will have to change his approach to provide one.
"It's just the same game, no matter what spot you're in," Pence said. "Just let the game dictate what your approach is and go from there."
• The Padres recorded their first series sweep of 2014 against Cincinnati on Wednesday and enter the series against San Francisco with a four-game winning streak, tied for their longest of the season.
• Since bottoming out with a .171 batting average on May 9, Pablo Sandoval has hit .333 in the time since, moving his overall average to .266. He's third in the Majors in that span, behind Milwaukee's Jonathan Lucroy and Colorado's Corey Dickerson.
• The Giants have scored five runs or more just once over their last 11 games.
Will Laws is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.