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PIT@SF: Bumgarner fans five over eight strong

The defending World Series champions are stuck in a tie with the Padres for last place in the National League West, but there may be one silver lining over the last month of a largely disappointing season.

Center fielder Angel Pagan has made a healthy and energetic return from the hamstring injury that sidelined him for more than three months, providing San Francisco with some stability heading into a winter during which outfielder Hunter Pence will become a free agent.

"It gives us a sense of comfort to go into the offseason -- the fact that we know that he's going to be fine next year," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "And I think that playing here the next month is important for Angel, too, for his peace of mind."

Pagan is just 3-for-12 with one stolen base since returning Friday, but Bochy said he was amazed at how well Pagan is running after undergoing surgery. He'll likely be back atop the Giants' order Tuesday, when San Francisco and San Diego square off at Petco Park.

Lefty Madison Bumgarner will get the start for the Giants, looking to snap a skid of hard luck. San Francisco has lost the All-Star's last five starts and seven of his last eight despite his 2.63 ERA during that span.

If there's been one flaw in Bumgarner's game lately, however, it's the uncharacteristic number of walks. He issued 16 free passes in six August starts, including nine in his last three. But he only walked one batter his last time out, and he carries an impressive line against San Diego this season into this start: 2-0 with a 2.70 ERA in 20 innings over three outings.

The Padres, meanwhile, will hand the ball to lefty Robbie Erlin, making his sixth start in the Majors. He's shown signs of improvement in that role, as his last outing was undoubtedly his best of the year. Erlin held the D-backs to just one run on six hits and two walks Wednesday, working six innings on 98 pitches.

"I'm really trying to keep it simple -- throw strikes with four pitches," Erlin said Wednesday. "But it comes down to executing. Executing [pitches] gets outs."

Giants: Cain on track for Saturday return
Right-hander Matt Cain threw a 90-pitch session in the bullpen Monday at Petco Park. Bochy said Cain came out of that test fine and should be set to start Saturday against the D-backs at AT&T Park. Cain is on the disabled list for the first time in his career after being hit by a line drive on the right forearm.

• The Giants should also be getting back Jeremy Affeldt soon, as the lefty reliever will face hitters Tuesday. Affeldt has been sidelined by a strained left groin since July 20.

• Right-hander Chad Gaudin, out with carpal tunnel syndrome, is expected to throw in the bullpen at some point this weekend.

Padres: Headley may be ready Wednesday
Chase Headley's sore lower back likely will keep him out of the starting lineup again Tuesday, but he might not miss much more time. Headley has missed five straight games, but manager Bud Black said Headley's condition is a "marked improvement" from Sunday. Headley is expected to participate in a full workout Tuesday to test his back.

"Let's hope that Wednesday might be a good day," Black said. "We are encouraged by how he's feeling."

• San Diego recalled right-hander Burch Smith from Triple-A Tucson on Monday, and he could start as soon as Friday. The Padres have a spot open then, as they're giving Andrew Cashner some extra rest. Black said Smith was available out of the bullpen Monday, and the Padres are still deciding whether the 23-year-old will get to jump back into the rotation after tossing seven shutout innings for Tucson his last time out.

Worth noting
• Giants first baseman Brandon Belt is batting .359 (37-for-103) with eight doubles, three triples, five homers and 14 RBIs in 29 games since Aug. 1. His .833 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) this season ranks second on the Giants behind only catcher Buster Posey.

• Padres outfielder Chris Denorfia owns a career .340 average (54-for-159) against the Giants, the highest mark among active Major Leaguers. He's also hit .303 this season out of the leadoff spot.

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