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Backed by Cabrera, Stults stymies Rockies

Lefty gives up one earned run in seven frames as shortstop goes 3-for-4

DENVER -- If you think pitching at Coors Field is tough, try spending most of a season pitching one hour or so down the road in Colorado Springs, where the Rockies' Triple-A affiliate is located.

"It's even worse there," Stults said.

But having an idea of how to pitch in the high altitude of Colorado -- experience born from rough outings there -- paid dividends for Stults on Saturday as he allowed one run over seven innings, and the Padres hung on for a 4-2 victory before a crowd of 34,590.

Stults (5-5) ran his streak of consecutive innings without a walk to 22, scattering seven hits over another successful outing, something that is becoming more and more the norm for the 33-year-old left-hander who is experiencing a career revival with the Padres.

"There have been a lot of starts like that as of late from Eric," said Padres manager Bud Black.

Stults lowered his ERA to 3.53 in 13 starts by sticking to his game and pitching to contact, avoiding the pitfall -- one he experienced as a player for the Rockies briefly in 2011 and as a visitor -- that so many other pitchers fall into.

"It's definitely a place where you can't pitch away from contact. The first few times I pitched here, I was a little hesitant and tried to be too fine," said Stults, who spent most of the 2011 season with Colorado Springs, where he saw the damage that hittable pitches at high altitude can inflict.

"This is a place where mentally, you have to put it out of your mind. It's just a weird place."

The Padres (29-33) don't need convincing of that. They've had their share of tumultuous games here at Coors Field. On Friday, they trailed 8-2, tied the game at 9, and then fell 10-9 on a walk-off home run. On Saturday, thanks in large part to Stults, there wasn't a whole lot of drama.

Not until the end, at least.

With the Padres clinging to their two-run lead, closer Luke Gregerson allowed a leadoff single to Jonathan Herrera. He then walked Nolan Arenado before a sacrifice bunt by DJ LeMahieu moved both runners up 90 feet.

"I had a hard time getting that first-pitch strike," Gregerson said.

Gregerson then left one up in the strike zone that Tyler Colvin smoked at second baseman Jedd Gyorko, who lunged and reached far to his left to snag the ball, hanging on as the white of the ball could be seen poking from his glove.

"That will make your heart stop for a second," Gregerson said, smiling.

Gregerson, filling in for injured closer Huston Street, then went to work on leadoff hitter Dexter Fowler, throwing him several sliders of varying speeds. The last slider came in harder and tighter, as Gregerson was able to bury it under Fowler's hand for a strikeout to end the game.

"We just didn't get the big hit tonight. I think Stults did a pretty good job navigating, doing some things, adding and subtracting," said Rockies manager Walt Weiss, noting that his team was 0-for-15 with runners in scoring position.

"I think we're one or two timely hits away from winning that game."

The Rockies (33-30) weren't the only ones struggling with runners on base. The Padres were 4-for-18 and left 12 runners on base, leaving the door slightly ajar for the Rockies late in the game.

There were some sparks early, though.

Kyle Blanks had two hits, including a two-run home run in the fourth inning off Rockies starting pitcher Jeff Francis (2-4). But this was hardly one of those Coors Field no-doubters. If anything, this one barely counted, as Blanks knocked a changeup that hit the left-field foul pole.

"I was talking to it, trying to make it stay fair," Blanks said.

Everth Cabrera reached base four times with three hits and a walk. He stole two bases and knocked in the Padres' last run of the game in the fourth inning on a bloop single to left field in the ninth pitch of the at-bat. Cabrera tied his career-best nine-game hitting streak.

"Cabby gets his knocks. ... It looks as though he's turned the corner with his complete game," Black said of Cabrera, who is now hitting .300.

The four runs were enough for Stults, who cautiously worked his way through a dangerous lineup time and again. Only this time, unlike earlier in his career, he was more heady than hesitant.

"The key to pitching in a place like this is not falling behind," he said. "They're one of the better lineups in the National League, especially here.

"In this park, you don't want to walk guys. I've learned that I have to throw my pitch."

Corey Brock is a reporter for Keep track of @FollowThePadres on Twitter.
Read More: San Diego Padres, Eric Stults, Kyle Blanks, Everth Cabrera, Jedd Gyorko, Chase Headley, Luke Gregerson