SAN DIEGO -- The Rockies haven't won many close games, but they've had a lot of practice. It paid off Tuesday night.
Starting pitcher Juan Nicasio overcame a rough first inning and clawed through six frames, and a nail-biting bullpen effort made a one-run lead hold up as the Rockies beat the Padres, 3-2, at Petco Park in front of 18,012.
It makes sense that Rockies road games in the National League West are close, given that the majority of the stadiums favor pitchers -- Petco especially. But five straight one-run games, two of them Rockies wins, on their first division road trip is taking it to an extreme, isn't it?
Closer LaTroy Hawkins, who walked one in the ninth but ended the game by forcing Nick Hundley into a double-play grounder for his third save, isn't shocked in the least.
"You know what you're going to get when you're playing in the National League West, so you come into the year mentally prepared for that -- numbers don't lie," Hawkins said. "This division is good for close ballgames."
The Rockies (7-8) have played all seven of their one-run games on the road. Part of the issue is an offense that can't seem to break open games. The Rockies' scoring stopped after Wilin Rosario singled in the go-ahead run in the fifth on a two-out, bases-loaded infield hit.
But that was fine with Nicasio (2-0), who turned stingy after giving up hits to the first four batters, including RBI singles to Seth Smith and Jedd Gyorko in the bottom of the first to trail, 2-0. But after he struck out Chase Headley, and Yonder Alonso lined to center fielder Drew Stubbs with the runners going to set up an easy double play, Nicasio owned the next five innings.
"I looked at the board and I had 31 pitches in the first inning," said Nicasio, who relies on a fastball and a hard slider but has developed an off-speed weapon in his split-finger pitch. "I tried to go deep in the game, like 10 pitches per inning. I put that in my mind. I was pitching for contact."
Nicasio finished with 99 pitches. His 13.6 average for innings 2-6 was not quite as stingy as his goal, but more than good enough to leave the Padres regretting not having a bigger first inning.
"We came out with a bang," said Padres manager Bud Black. "But from there, Nicasio settled in, found his location with his fastball and pitched with a little more confidence. We just couldn't mount much against him."
After the first, the only Padres hits were a single in the fifth and double in the sixth. In all, he yielded two runs on six hits with one walk and three strikeouts. With Jorge De La Rosa hoping to escape his early-season slump Wednesday and Jhoulys Chacin having thrown his first rehab start (strained right shoulder) for Class A Modesto on Tuesday, Nicasio has been the most consistent starter.
"The fact he got through six was huge," Rockies manager Walt Weiss said. "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."
Nicasio's work allowed the Rockies to crawl into the lead as they battled against Padres lefty starter Robbie Erlin (1-1), who struck out a career-high seven but also gave up three runs on six hits.
DJ LeMahieu singled in a second-inning run. Troy Tulowitzki doubled to open the fourth and scored on Nolan Arenado's sacrifice fly.
The Rockies took the lead in the fifth but lost a chance to open some space. With the bases loaded and two out, Rosario singled off the glove of reliever Tim Stauffer. But Stauffer then fanned Arenado.
Padres reliever Alex Torres also worked Tulowitzki into a double-play grounder with two on to end the seventh, and the Rockies couldn't do anything with Arenado's one-out double in the eighth. They couldn't score after Charlie Blackmon and Corey Dickerson walked with one out in the ninth, because Padres reliever Donn Roach worked Carlos Gonzalez into a double-play grounder.
"I'd have liked to have tacked on a few more runs, but the bottom line is we won a tight ballgame," Weiss said.
A bullpen that has worked 19 2/3 innings over the last five games, was pitching Tuesday around the slumping Rex Brothers and needed to give Matt Belisle a rest made the lead stand.
Chad Bettis white-knuckled through a hit and a walk in two-thirds of an inning. Boone Logan entered with two on and two down in the seventh, walked Xavier Nady to load the bases but induced a groundout from Alexi Amarista to second baseman LeMahieu. Logan and Adam Ottavino worked an eventless eighth to set up Hawkins.
"It's important to get this game, get a 'W,'" Logan said. "Hopefully, we can feed off of that for tomorrow and put up a lot of runs."