Clayton Kershaw was the first Dodgers player on the field at Petco Park before Friday's game, the day after Los Angeles clinched the National League West.
Even if the Dodgers already reached their primary regular-season goal, Kershaw still has a prize to claim. The left-hander, an NL Cy Young Award front-runner, has two more starts left with which to make his closing argument after getting an extra three days of rest since his last outing.
Kershaw (14-9, 1.94 ERA) will take the ball against the Padres and rookie Burch Smith on Saturday as he works toward his second Cy Young. The 25-year-old won the award in 2011 and finished second to R.A. Dickey last year. This season, he leads the Majors in ERA and WHIP (0.93), is second in innings (223) and tops the NL with 214 strikeouts.
The Dodgers moved Kershaw's start back from Wednesday as a precautionary measure due to his heavy workload.
"I don't know if protect is a good word," Kershaw said on Tuesday. "They want me to be well rested if I pitch deep [into October]. I don't think I need it, but I'm not going to argue about it."
Since a rare rough game at Coors Field on Sept. 2, Kershaw has regained form. In his past two starts, he has pitched seven innings and allowed two earned runs.
Smith (1-1, 6.57) is coming off the finest performance of his young career on Sunday against the Braves. He began with five no-hit innings and went on to toss seven scoreless, with three hits, two walks and a career-high 10 strikeouts.
"He was good at throwing his changeup for strikes and throwing his curveball for strikes, too," Braves third baseman Chris Johnson said. "His fastball was a little erratic, which was tough, but he used it to his advantage, threw his slider for strikes, and when we were caught off guard with his fastball, he was still around the zone."
Dodgers: A balancing act for Mattingly
Los Angeles still has something to play for: home-field advantage in the postseason. At the same time, manager Don Mattingly said getting his players healthy is his most important goal down the stretch.
Shortstop Hanley Ramirez, outfielders Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp and first baseman Adrian Gonzalez are nursing various ailments, and Mattingly won't play them if the team's medical staff feels that would pose a risk.
"Rather be more safe than sorry later," he said.
Mattingly didn't start any of his regulars in Friday's 2-0 series-opening loss, although Gonzalez, Kemp and Yasiel Puig all pinch-hit in the ninth inning.
Padres: Headley finishing strong
It's been a down year for third baseman Chase Headley, but his production has picked up over the last month. He has a .294/.422/.559 line in 20 games since Aug. 23.
Headley didn't pick up a hit on Friday, but he did draw a pair of walks in four plate appearances.
"He's swinging at strikes, taking balls," said manager Bud Black. "He's doing the things he's been good at, working at-bats, seeing pitches, getting on base. His bat speed has improved a little."
• The Padres have won 12 of their past 17 games.
• Kershaw has a 2.54 ERA in eight career starts at Petco Park but gave up four runs over six innings there on June 21.