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Nicasio starts off spring with three shutout frames

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The three smooth innings that Giants lefty starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner threw Tuesday afternoon were expected. He will be the starter when the season opens at Arizona on March 31.

Rockies starter Juan Nicasio's three equally strong and scoreless innings were important. He has to pitch well this spring to assure himself of a rotation spot.

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Brandon Belt had two hits as the Giants scratched out a 3-2 victory at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, but much of the attention Tuesday was on the work of the two starters.

Bumgarner held the Rockies to two hits and struck out one. He gave up one hit in two scoreless innings against the Brewers in his first spring start, but was happier about Tuesday's effort.

"My command was better," Bumgarner said. "The pitches I made from the stretch felt better than they did last time. There still were balls that I left up, but nothing on a regular basis."

Nicasio yielded two first-inning hits and struck out four in his spring debut. He gave up singles to Belt and Buster Posey with two out in the first before striking out Tyler Colvin looking. He was spotless the next two innings.

Nicasio went 9-9 with a 5.14 ERA in 31 starts last season. The Rockies' front office has said it is confident he will develop into a successful power starter, but nonetheless threw open his spot for competition after building starting pitching depth in the offseason.

The distinct possibility that righty Jhoulys Chacin will begin the year on the disabled list with a right shoulder strain makes Nicasio's performance in spring less crucial, but still important. Nicasio pitched last season in pain, a residual effect of a 2012 knee surgery, and expects to be more effective this year because he is starting out healthy.

"I was working with my fastball down in the zone and on my slider," Nicasio said. "I am working so hard and now I am more in focus and my body is better in shape. It's 100 percent different.

"I used to hang my slider a lot. I couldn't put my weight on my knee and I would throw with only my arm. Now I have better [stability] with my knee, so my breaking ball is sharper now. I am better."

The Giants took the lead with two runs in the fourth off Rockies closer LaTroy Hawkins. Belt and Colvin doubled, with the second double driving in a run, and Tony Abreu added an RBI single.

The Rockies' Ryan Wheeler doubled in a run in the sixth off Giants No. 5 starter Ryan Vogelsong, who pitched three innings, and San Francisco's Gary Brown added an RBI single in the seventh. Jason Pridie singled in a run in the ninth to draw Colorado closer.

Up next: The Rockies will play split-squad road games Wednesday, with righty Tyler Chatwood starting at Mesa against the Cubs and lefty Franklin Morales starting against the Rangers at Surprise.

Thomas Harding is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb.

Colorado Rockies, Juan Nicasio, Ryan Wheeler