After rocking start, Padres' bats held in check
Four hits open the first inning before Rockies pitchers stifle offense
SAN DIEGO -- For a slow-starting team, both in the standings and in terms of offensive woes in the first innings, the sight of four consecutive hits to open Tuesday's outing against the Rockies caught the attention of Padres manager Bud Black.
"We came out swinging," Black said. "We came out with a bang."
What followed that first-inning flurry of hits was more fizzle than sizzle, as Rockies right-hander Juan Nicasio settled down, pitching six strong innings as the Rockies came back for a 3-2 victory in front of a crowd of 18,012 at Petco Park.
The Padres, who entered the game having won four of their last five games, appeared to be on track to even their record for the first time this season, especially with the way they ambushed Nicasio (2-0) in that first inning.
Leadoff hitter Will Venable doubled to left-center. Alexi Amarista reached on an infield single. Then it was Seth Smith's turn, as he drove in a run with a single to right field. Finally, Jedd Gyorko bounced a single the other way to right field for a 2-0 lead.
And there were still no outs.
"I tried to calm myself down," Nicasio said.
Whatever he did, it certainly worked. He struck out Chase Headley and got Yonder Alonso to line a ball to center fielder Drew Stubbs. Smith was running on contact and was easily doubled off of second base to end the inning and, essentially, the Padres' biggest threat of the night.
"From there, Nicasio settled in, he found his location with his fastball and he pitched with a little more confidence," Black said. "We just couldn't mount much against him."
Starting with the final two outs of the first inning, Nicasio retired 15 of the next 16 batters he faced until Smith doubled with one out in the sixth inning. Nicasio regrouped and got the final two outs of the sixth before turning the game over to the bullpen.
On Monday, that didn't work out so well for the Rockies (7-8), who saw Rex Brothers walk three in the eighth inning and uncork a wild pitch -- followed by a throwing error on the same play -- that quickly turned a 4-3 lead into a 5-4 loss.
"The fact he got through six was huge. Our bullpen was a little dinged up tonight. We needed Juan to get through that sixth. It was critical and he stepped up, especially after a tough first inning," said Rockies manager Walt Weiss.
Unlike Nicasio, Padres left-hander Robbie Erlin (1-1) got off to a fast start but faded in the middle part of the game.
Erlin struck out four of the first nine Rockies batters he faced, catching Carlos Gonzalez and Stubbs looking at called third strikes on the corners.
But Erlin ran into trouble in the fourth inning, allowing a leadoff double to Troy Tulowitzki and a single to Wilin Rosario, who had three hits. Nolan Arenado tied the game with a sacrifice fly later in the inning.
Then in the fifth inning, Erlin -- who matched his career high with seven strikeouts, in 4 2/3 innings -- got two outs before allowing two baserunners. Reliever Tim Stauffer allowed a Rosario RBI single that gave his team the lead for good.
"The second time through the lineup, I could feel myself trying to do too much," Erlin said. "My game is commanding the fastball, and it was pretty evident that I lost command of the fastball. It was tough after that."
The Padres (6-8) had chances after Nicasio left, as Alonso singled to start the seventh inning. But catcher Nick Hundley flied out to one of the deepest parts of the ballpark in left-center before Amarista ended the inning by grounding out with the bases loaded.
In that vexing seventh inning, the Padres had a hit and two walks but couldn't score the tying run.
Black thought the ball Hundley squared up with a runner on might have a chance to leave the ballpark -- giving the Padres a late lead.
"He hit it good," Black said. "When he hit it, I thought that it might have a chance."
As it turned out, the best opportunity for the Padres against these Rockies (7-8) came early -- first-inning early. Four hits in the first, four more over the final eight innings.
"We put some good at-bats together," Gyorko said. "But in the middle of the game, [Nicasio] got a little more comfortable and settled in. But that's a sign of what we're capable of."