Padres learning when playing spoiler vs. Diamondbacks

TEMPE, Ariz. — Smack dab in the middle of the NL West and wild-card races, the Arizona Diamondbacks can feel the relevance in every pitch.

San Diego, for its part, is hoping that its younger players also can take something from the exposure to a playoff atmosphere, even if it is from the other side of the field.

The Padres stopped the Diamondbacks 6-2 behind Franmil Reyes‘ first career two-homer game in the first game of a two-game mini-series at Chase Field on Monday, the first of five games remaining between the two this season. The Padres also have series remaining against contenders Seattle and the Dodgers

“These games are going to mean a lot to that club, and it’s a chance for us to make it hard on them,” San Diego manager Andy Green said of the Arizona games.

“And then we are going to go into Dodger Stadium in the middle of the month and have an opportunity to go against a team that we can make it very hard on. For the guys that pitch on those days, they are going to feel what it feels like pitching in a September playoff race.

“We can’t artificially create that when we go to Cincinnati (this weekend). Those games are going to be equally important for us to win, but I think I’m excited for the opportunity to see our guys tested in the venues this month.”

Arizona left-hander Robbie Ray (4-2) is to face San Diego left-hander Joey Lucchesi (7-7) in the second game of the short two-game set Tuesday.

Arizona has lost four in a row and six of eight, during which it has scored 14 runs, with a high of three.

“Obviously it is not ideal the way we have been swinging the bats,” said veteran catcher Alex Avila, who has been through successful stretch runs before with Detroit and the Cubs.

“You can’t let that overtake you and cloud your mind on a daily basis. It’s just a matter of time. There will be a day when we break out of it. It’s a tough game, so you just have to keep plugging away.”

The D-backs will commence a streak of 20 consecutive games against teams that are .500 or better with a four-game home series against NL East-leading Atlanta that begins Thursday.

Their next road trip is a seven-gamer to Colorado (four games) and Houston followed by a nine-game homestand that includes three-game series against the Cubs, Colorado and the Dodgers. They finish up with three games in San Diego.

Ray, who has a 4.55 ERA, has given up only one run in each of his past two starts while walking the tightrope, having given up 15 base runners in his previous 10 1/3 innings.

When Ray throws strikes, he is tough to hit — he has 16 strikeouts in his last two outings and is averaging 11.9 strikeouts per nine innings, second only to Washington’s Max Scherzer (12.0) among NL starters. Ray missed eight weeks with a strained oblique muscle earlier in the season and has thrown 91 innings in his 18 starts.

Ray has worked with pitching coach Mike Butcher on finishing his delivery more on line, with his plant foot facing home plate when he lands so that he is not throwing across his body.

He said he felt that click in a no-decision start against Seattle on Aug. 25, when he gave up one run in five innings. He struck out nine in five innings in a 3-1 victory over the Dodgers in his most recent start last Thursday.

“I felt locked in mentally and mechanically,” Ray said after the Seattle outing. “Just a small change like that makes a huge difference. It honestly feels fine either way, but just the result of the pitch isn’t exactly where I want it to be when I close myself off.”

Ray has made two starts against the Padres this season without a decision while giving up seven runs and nine walks in 8 2/3 innings.

Rookie Lucchesi, who sports a 3.59 ERA in 21 starts, had made two consecutive quality starts after giving up five runs in four innings of a 9-4 loss to Arizona at Petco Park on Aug. 17.

His last two losses have come against the Diamondbacks, and he has had limited success against them this season, going 0-4 with a 7.71 ERA in four starts, two at home and two on the road. Arizona has five homers and 16 runs off him in 18 2/3 innings.

Paul Goldschmidt and Nick Ahmed have two homers apiece off Lucchesi this season and A.J. Pollock has one.