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SD@COL: Nicasio earns first win since neck injury

DENVER -- This time, fans at Coors Field gave Rockies starter Juan Nicasio an ovation for what he did on the field and not in remembrance of the neck injury he suffered last season.

Nicasio threw 6 1/3 strong innings while leading the Rockies to an 8-4 victory over the Padres in front of 24,762 on Wednesday night.

Nicasio struck out five and yielded four runs on seven hits. He also threw strikes on 65 of his 99 pitches and didn't walk a batter. In his last start, his first at Coors Field since suffering a broken neck when hit by a line drive, he walked a career-high five and lasted just 2 2/3 innings in a no-decision against the D-backs on Friday.

"The last start, I had a lot of walks," Nicasio said. "I told everybody I didn't feel the ball in my hand the last time. Today, I felt good."

With Nicasio (1-0) maintaining a good grip on the baseball, the Rockies' offense took a stranglehold on the game.

Jonathan Herrera and Michael Cuddyer knocked two-run homers and Chris Nelson doubled twice as the Rockies finished with 12 hits and capped their first homestand of 2012 in style.

"We made this a good homestand, winning more than we lost [5-4]," Rockies manager Jim Tracy said. "We won another series tonight. Those are all positives as we go out on the road."

It was the Rockies' first game this season with a starting lineup that didn't include slumping shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, who has a .244 batting average and six errors, which matches last year's season total. Herrera, who started at second while Marco Scutaro moved to short, hit his first homer of the season, an opposite-field, two-run shot off Padres starting left-hander Clayton Richard (0-2).

Herrera's homer was part of a five-run second that also included Nelson's two-run double, the first of his two doubles, and Dexter Fowler's RBI double. Before that inning, the Rockies had managed just two runs in 30 1/3 innings against left-handed starters.

"I didn't know that fact ... I had no clue," said Nelson, who hit safely in seven of the nine games and went 11-for-25 with three doubles and four RBIs during the homestand.

Cuddyer, who is hitting .370, knocked his second homer of the season in the fifth as Richard gave up eight runs and 10 hits in 5 1/3 innings.

"Clayton had a rough night and Nicasio was on," Padres manager Bud Black said. "That's usually the difference. Starting pitching is key."

Cuddyer left the game in the sixth because of a bruised left big toe, which he suffered when he knocked a foul ball off of it two pitches before his home run.

It's not clear whether Cuddyer will play the first game in Milwaukee. Tracy said he might piggyback it with Wednesday's day off so Cuddyer can have extra rest at this early point of the season.

Before the last three games, it was not too early to worry about the starting pitching.

Just once in the first six games of the homestand did the Rockies' starter last as many as five innings. But in the three games against the Padres, Jeremy Guthrie overcame early difficulties to go seven in the 7-1 loss in the series opener, Jamie Moyer went seven while winning Tuesday night, and Nicasio followed with a strong effort Wednesday.

The Rockies need lengthy performances out of Guthrie and Nicasio. The Rockies will keep a close eye on innings thrown by Moyer, who on Tuesday became the oldest pitcher in history to win a game, at 49 and 151 days.

"Just in the last two days, we got our bullpen completely back intact. We have a day off tomorrow, which helps it even more, and we'll go to Milwaukee at full strength," Tracy said.

Nicasio's control problems in his start against the D-backs were uncharacteristic. After being called up from Double-A Tulsa last season, Nicasio walked just 18 in 71 2/3 innings before the injury. In his first start of this season, at Houston on April 8, Nicasio walked just one while giving up one run in seven innings of a no-decision.

Wednesday, Nicasio displayed the fastball command that has excited the Rockies and he displayed an above-average changeup. He admitted having a better handle on his emotions than he did against the D-backs.

"Last time, I threw a lot of balls everywhere," Nicasio said. "I wanted to go deep in this game."

The only Padres player to solve Nicasio was Chase Headley, who homered twice -- for a 1-0 lead in the first inning and for two runs in the sixth. It was the first career multi-homer game for Headley, who grew up in Fountain, Colo.

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