SAN DIEGO -- One of the most straightforward and elementary lessons of pitching has always seemed to elude Padres rookie pitcher Robbie Erlin.
Keep the ball down. Sounds easy enough, right?
"That's always been a struggle for me," Erlin said.
That might be changing, though.
Erlin managed to live enough below the knees Friday night to make things awfully difficult on the Dodgers, as the Padres hung on for a 2-0 victory in front of a crowd of 34,986 at Petco Park.
Erlin (3-3) tossed 7 2/3 innings against a Dodgers lineup that was missing many of its regular position players, who were resting after the team clinched the National League West on Thursday.
Erlin, a 22-year-old left-hander looking to spin a strong finish into a spot in the rotation next season, allowed four hits, one walk and tied his career high with seven strikeouts.
"He's made some strides ... him and [pitching coach Darren Balsley] have worked on things for him to become a finished Major League pitcher," said Padres manager Bud Black. "He has really concentrated on the fastball down. Tonight, he did a good job of throwing the ball down and away."
Erlin allowed two baserunners in the first inning before retiring 15 of the next 16 batters he faced -- many on fastballs down that turned into ground-ball outs, or strikeouts coming on curveballs and a handful of changeups.
"Getting the ball down is huge, especially if you're behind in the count," Erlin said. "I've been working with [Balsley], and it feels like it's starting to click."
The proof is in the results, as Erlin has posted a 1.85 ERA over his past four starts with one more start left the rest of the way, giving him one more chance to make a lasting impression on Black, Balsley and the rest of the organization.
"I'll control what I can do on the field," Erlin said when asked if he's putting himself on the team's radar for 2014. "Everything else is out of my control."
Erlin didn't find himself in too many tight spots Friday, though he did allow a double to Skip Schumaker to start the fourth inning.
But Erlin didn't buckle, striking out Scott Van Slyke on a big curveball before getting Tim Federowicz on a grounder to third base for the second out. Finally, Erlin got Nick Buss out on his front foot on another curveball, as he popped up to shortstop Ronny Cedeno to end the inning.
The Padres didn't provide Erlin with a whole lot of offense, but he made it hold up.
Facing former teammate Edinson Volquez, who was released by San Diego on Aug. 25, the Padres scored in the first inning when Chris Denorfia raced home on Jedd Gyorko's ground ball to third baseman Jerry Hairston, just beating the return throw home by first baseman Drew Butera.
"The last I saw, he [Denorfia] was staying," Gyorko said. "Great play."
Gyorko got his second RBI in the fifth inning, though he had to hit the ball considerably farther to do so -- like 417 feet.
"The first few innings I was all over the place, but I made some adjustments the last couple of innings," Volquez said. "I was excited to come back here. I played here almost two years and have a lot of friends. Other than that, I just do my job."
Gyorko jumped on a 2-0 fastball up in the strike zone off Volquez (9-12), sending it over the wall in deep center field.
"Jedd's intent is to hit," Black said. "He thinks he can hit anything, which is great. ... He got a fastball up and he jumped on it."
The home run was No. 20 for Gyorko, making him the fifth rookie second baseman in Major League history to hit 20 home runs. He's also the first Padres second baseman to do so.
"As the season was progressing, it [20 home runs] was a number I wanted to get to," Gyorko said.
Volquez allowed one earned run on five hits in 6 1/3 innings. He walked four and struck out five, giving the Padres a look at the kind of start they saw more from Volquez in 2012 than this season.
"You know Eddie ... he has good stuff, it's just a matter if he could keep it in the zone," Gyorko said.
Erlin didn't have such problems. He might like to have the mid-90s fastball of another rookie hopeful who is trying to open eyes for 2014 -- right-hander Burch Smith -- but Erlin has an aversion to walks, throws strikes and, since he's returned from Triple-A Tucson, has consistently been getting outs.
The results have shown every six days -- the Padres are currently employing a six-man rotation -- but Erlin's biggest gains might come during side sessions between starts with Balsley.
"He has a good head on his shoulders, he's a good listener ... a student," Black said. "I love that about Robbie."
The Dodgers threatened in the ninth inning against closer Huston Street, who allowed a leadoff double to Schumaker and later a single to pinch-hitter Adrian Gonzalez before striking out Yasiel Puig on four pitches (all sliders) and striking out Matt Kemp to end the game, earning his 32nd save.