DENVER -- With the Rockies reeling from the two taxing games that opened this four-game series with the Padres, the pendulum swung San Diego's way Saturday as Colorado fell, 4-2.
In his first game back since going on the disabled list with a groin strain, Jeff Francis struggled to return to his pre-injury form. Francis had allowed two runs in a rain-shortened outing against the Yankees on May 9, and one run on three hits in a six-inning win over the Cubs on May 14.
Saturday against the Padres, he wasn't hit hard, but enough balls dropped to run his pitch count up early and send him to the showers with a three-run deficit.
"I think maybe there was some rust," manager Walt Weiss said of Francis. "He was in a lot of deep counts, a lot of foul balls. He got extended pretty early, 30-plus pitches in the first inning. He had to work hard to get through four."
The Padres got to Francis early, as Everth Cabrera drew a one-out walk in the first frame, stole second, then came home on Chase Headley's single to right. After Carlos Quentin singled in the next at-bat, Francis settled down nicely, retiring eight of the next nine batters he faced.
"I felt probably as good as I've felt all season, physically," Francis said. "They fouled off some tough pitches and waited for me to make some mistakes, and they took advantage of it there in the fourth inning. That translated into a too-long inning for me. I wasn't able to get out of it as quickly as I could."
Holding opponents to four runs at Coors Field should give the Rockies a good chance to win, and they had ample opportunity, but came up 0-for-15 with runners in scoring position, consistently closing the door on the windows they opened for themselves against starter Eric Stults and the Padres 'pen.
"We just didn't get the big hit tonight," Weiss said. "Stults did a pretty good job navigating, doing some things, adding and subtracting. We're one or two timely hits away from winning that game."
Colorado put traffic on the bases in eight of nine innings, but only once put two hits together in the same inning.
"They're one of the best lineups in the National League, especially here," Stults said of containing Colorado at Coors Field. "The key to pitching in a place like this is not falling behind. It's definitely a place where you can't pitch away from contact."
The Rockies tied the game in the third. Dexter Fowler led off with his second hit of the night, a single to center, and he advanced to third on Eric Young Jr.'s single to right. Young stole second with Carlos Gonzalez at the plate, and when catcher Yasmani Grandal overthrew the bag at second, Fowler trotted home.
"He was hitting spots with a good mix of breaking balls and fastballs," Gonzalez said of Stultz. "Every pitch was on a good spot, and that's why you see a lot of missed swings."
San Diego did its damage in the fourth, collecting three hits, two walks, and three runs off Francis. Jedd Gyorko led off with a double, and Kyle Blanks followed with a two-run homer off the left-field foul pole. Cameron Maybin walked and stole second while Francis struck out Grandal and Stults. Chris Denorfia drew another walk to keep the inning alive, and Cabrera dropped a bloop double into shallow left to cap the three-run rally.
The Rockies cut the lead to two in the seventh inning on the strength of a DJ LeMahieu one-out triple into the left-center alley. Tyler Colvin grounded to first to bring LeMahieu home with the Rockies' second tally.
Colorado threatened in the eighth, with Young leading off by beating out an infield single, then advancing to second on an errant throw from Cabrera at short. The middle of the lineup couldn't find a way to plate Young, however, as Gonzalez struck out swinging, Troy Tulowitzki popped foul to third, and Wilin Rosario flew to right.
The Rockies got a pair of shutout relief innings from both Adam Ottavino and Manuel Corpas and one from Rex Brothers.
"The bullpen did a great job keeping the Padres right there, giving our offense a chance to win," Weiss said.
Brothers had a hiccup when he walked Chase Headley, and Headley moved to third when a fan interfered with the loose ball in a pickoff attempt. He walked two more to load the bases. For the third out, Nolan Arenado barehanded a slow high-hopper and earned a huge assist on extending Brothers' scoreless streak to 24 1/3 innings in 26 appearances.
"The runner from second was going in front of me, so I knew that was going to be my only shot, and luckily I barehanded it almost like a grip, to where I could just throw it instead of finding a grip," Arenado explained. "I got pretty lucky that it went right to where I wanted it."
Arenado -- who also knocked his first career triple in the fourth -- is developing a track record for converting untenable bounding balls into routine outs to the delight of fans and teammates alike.
"A lot of us are already saying he's the best we've ever seen," Francis said. "He's changed some games, not only with his glove, but with his bat."
Colorado's last two lost chances with runners in scoring position came in the ninth inning with runners on second and third and one out. Colvin ripped a liner headed for right, but Cabrera speared it for the second out, and Luke Gregerson struck out Fowler to end the game.
"You can't expect to win when you leave so many guys on base," Gonzalez said. "Tonight was just a bad game. Nothing we can do about it. Just try to win tomorrow."
Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.