"Today, I didn't have command of my fastball," Nicasio said. "I was behind the hitters, and they've got great hitters."
Nicasio (2-1), who fell into a pattern of short starts last season, went seven innings in his first start, five in the second and six in the third. Knowing that Nicasio was still in pain last year (9-9, 5.14 ERA in 31 starts) from a 2012 knee injury, the Rockies believed they were seeing a pitcher who could carry a heavier innings load. But on Saturday, he threw 97 pitches and gave up eight hits and five runs in 4 1/3 innings.
"It usually comes down to getting strike one," Rockies manager Walt Weiss. "When you get strike one, you can execute scouting reports and attack weaknesses of hitters. When you don't get strike one, it's tough to do."
But Nicasio's lack of command Saturday was a key reason the Rockies didn't build on the momentum of an 11-inning victory in the series opener on Friday. Two late rallies fizzled with heart-of-the-order hitters -- Troy Tulowitzki in the sixth with two on and two outs, and Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez, who struck out against reliever Chris Withrow, who had walked the bases loaded with one out.
"That's a perfect situation for me and Tulo to change the game, but it didn't happen tonight," said Gonzalez, who went 1-for-4 and is trying to work his way out of a 7-for-49 skid (.143).
But as Weiss noted, "It's tough playing from behind against that club."
With short stints in his last two starts, his footing could be precarious when Jhoulys Chacin returns from the shoulder injury that has kept him out all season. That could happen after Chacin makes one more rehab start.
Nicasio said there is a simple adjustment.
"I need to work with my command of my fastball," Nicasio said. "I go deep in games when I have better command of my fastball and throw the first pitch for a strike."
In his previous start, a no-decision against the Phillies, Nicasio lasted just five innings and left with a lead, but the bullpen couldn't hold the rest of the game. Saturday, Nicasio teetered in the first and second and crumbled in the third, after Brandon Barnes' RBI single had given the Rockies a 1-0 lead.
Dee Gordon's third-inning leadoff triple was the Dodgers' third extra-base hit. Nicasio then hit Yasiel Puig. Hanley Ramirez's bouncer to short scored Gordon, and Puig, running on the pitch, dashed to third. Gonzalez's sacrifice fly scored Puig.
Kemp muscled a Nicasio 1-1 fastball to right-center. Barnes leaped into the wall, but could not grab it, and the Dodgers had a 3-1 lead on Kemp's fourth homer.
"Everybody was capitalizing on their starter's mistakes," Kemp said. "We had to do that."
The Rockies' Wilin Rosario started the fifth with a double and scored on Justin Morneau's single to make it 4-2. But the Rockies could manage no more against Dodgers starter Paul Maholm (1-2), who beat the Rockies for the first time since Aug. 23, 2007, for the Pirates at Coors Field -- seven decisions ago. Maholm held the Rockies to two runs and six hits over seven innings.
"I can't tell you I was the most confident person going to the mound, knowing my history against them," Maholm said. "But I hadn't faced them for years, and we weren't in Colorado."
Nicasio's leadoff walk to Drew Butera led to Puig's RBI single in the fourth. Gonzalez opened the fifth with an opposite-field drive to left for his eighth homer.
Maholm's biggest confrontation came in the sixth, when Nolan Arenado (16-game hit streak) and Gonzalez singled with two outs. Maholm, however, used a four-seam fastball to work a grounder to short from Tulowitzki.
Withrow found his command just in time to overpower Gonzalez and Tulowitzki in the eighth.
"I'd never faced the guy before," Gonzalez said. "He has really good stuff. His cutter is hard in and his fastball is very aggressive, too, up in the 90s. It's a tough at-bat."
Puig then doubled home a run in the ninth against Matt Belisle.
In the ninth, the Rockies drew two walks against Brian Wilson to start the frame and loaded the bases with one out. Charlie Culberson got a run in with a groundout, but Kenley Jansen escaped with the save after Barnes struck out with runners on second and third.