Rockies win series with Giants
DENVER -- Juan Nicasio went from erratic all season to electric again simply by following orders.
Before the game, veteran catcher Yorvit Torrealba told the young pitcher to "pound the strike zone." No cute or fancy stuff, just throw whatever Torrealba told him to throw.
Nicasio paid attention and prospered.
The righty scattered three hits over six innings, Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki each drove in two runs and the Colorado Rockies won their first series over San Francisco in two years, beating the Giants 5-0 on Sunday.
"That's what everybody was waiting for from him," said Gonzalez, whose team took three of four from the reigning World Series champions. "Before, all those pitches he was making in a game, it was really hard for him to get out of the fifth. Tonight, it was a different story."
Since it was his first time catching the inconsistent Nicasio this season, Torrealba had a brief pregame meeting with him. In their talk, he just reminded him to throw strikes and "whatever I put down, you throw."
Nicasio (4-1) wasn't about to disobey Torrealba.
"He called for a lot of breaking balls, in situations for me where I want to throw fastball," Nicasio said. "He told me, 'No, breaking ball or sinker.' "
By following Torrealba's instructions, Nicasio shut down one of the top-hitting teams in baseball. He struck out five and allowed only an intentional walk before being lifted for a pinch hitter in the sixth. It was only the third time in nine starts the righty has thrown at least six innings.
Before Sunday, Nicasio had labored in games, throwing way too many pitches that led to early exits. He was pretty much pitching to keep his spot in the rotation, especially on the heels of Tyler Chatwood's solid performance the previous day. Nicasio could be the odd starter out when Jeff Francis returns from the disabled list at the end of the month.
More outings like this only boost Nicasio's case to remain in the rotation. Not that he's thinking along those lines.
"I didn't have pressure," he insisted. "When I go to pitch, I'm focused. I want to do my job, throw strikes."
He worked his way out of a sticky situation in the sixth -- with the assistance of Torrealba, of course.
With two outs and two on, Torrealba paid a visit to the mound when Brandon Belt ran the count to 3-2. Torrealba told Nicasio to throw a slider down and away.
Nicasio did just that -- even though the pitcher wanted to throw a sinker down the middle -- and struck out Belt.
So elated was Nicasio that he skipped off the mound and pumped his fist before making his way into the dugout to an ovation from the crowd.
Torrealba was beaming, too.
"He can pitch on this level," Torrealba said. "Today, he showed it. If he pounds the strike zone, he's fine."
Dexter Fowler tied a career high with four hits and Jordan Pacheco also drove in a run as Colorado captured its first series against San Francisco since May 16-17, 2011, at Coors Field.
Gregor Blanco and Brandon Crawford each had two hits. Pinch-hitter Joaquin Arias had the other as the Giants lost their third in a row to the Rockies after beating them 10 straight times.
The Giants concluded a six-game road swing with a 1-5 mark in which their starting pitching fizzled and their defense faltered. The starters had a 9.82 ERA and the fielders committed 13 errors on the trip.
This is far from the norm for the Giants, whose rotation was so dependable in winning the World Series last season.
"We're going to have our off days and we're going to be bad," manager Bruce Bochy explained. "It's a temporary thing. You don't have the success we've had and not be good, these pitchers. Have to remind themselves how good they are."
Barry Zito (3-3) turned in a second straight ineffective outing. He allowed 11 hits and five runs in 5 2/3 innings.
The lefty struggled on Tuesday in Toronto when he surrendered eight runs -- five earned -- in 5 2/3 innings. He was looking to get back on track against Colorado, a team he hadn't lost to since Sept. 25, 2008.
"I've given up quite a few hits the last couple of games," Zito said. "It doesn't feel good to be allowing all those base runners, but at the same time battling out of innings is encouraging."
The Rockies pounced on Zito early, scoring a run in the first when Gonzalez singled home Eric Young Jr.
Colorado opened a 3-0 lead in the fifth on an RBI double by Gonzalez and a run-scoring single from Pacheco. Tulowitzki added some insurance with a two-run single an inning later off Jose Mijares, who came in for Zito.
"We've just got to keep fighting and we'll come out of it," Zito said of the team's slump.
Bochy elected to rest two of his hottest hitters, catcher Buster Posey and infielder Marco Scutaro. It was a particularly difficult decision for Bochy to keep Scutaro out of the lineup since he's in the midst of a 17-game hitting streak.
"He's been on a great run here," Bochy said. "Sometimes, you've got to give him a break."
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