David Zalubowski/Associated Press
DENVER – Juan Nicasio returned to form on the same mound where he nearly lost his career and possibly his life.
The hard-throwing righty tossed 6 1/3 solid innings for his first win since coming back from a broken neck, lifting the Colorado Rockies over the San Diego Padres 8-4 on Wednesday night.
Nicasio (1-0) gave up four runs and seven hits as he made his second start at Coors Field since Aug. 5, when he was hit in the right temple by a line drive and suffered a fractured skull along with the neck injury.
He earned a spot in the rotation with a strong spring – a remarkable recovery considering doctors were fearful he might not walk again after the accident let alone take the mound.
“He was dominating,” Todd Helton said. “He threw the ball well. He did a great job.”
Nicasio also singled home a run, the first RBI of the young pitcher’s career. That hit finished Clayton Richard (1-1), who didn’t have his best command as he surrendered eight runs in 5 1/3 innings.
“It was a bad night,” Richard succinctly said.
Jonathan Herrera and Michael Cuddyer had two-run homers as Colorado wound up with nine extra-base hits. An inning after homering, Cuddyer left after the sixth with a bruised left big toe.
It’s been an arduous road back for Nicasio since being struck by a ball off the bat of Washington’s Ian Desmond. Doctors had to perform emergency surgery to insert pins into the cracked C-1 vertebra and attach a small metal plate to the back of his neck.
Soon after, he showed up at a home game wearing a brace to stabilize his neck and received a warm ovation from the crowd.
Nicasio got another one when he was taken out in the seventh. As he walked off the mound to roaring applause, he tipped his cap.
“I’m happy,” he said. “That (ovation) was good.”
Nicasio made his first start at Coors Field last Friday against Arizona in an outing he’d rather forget. He couldn’t find his control as he gave up six runs in 2 2/3 innings. But he insisted the poor performance had nothing to do with lingering memories of the accident. Those are long gone.
This time, the difference simply was he located his fastball better and had more bite on his breaking ball.
“Our starting pitcher bounced back just in the manner I thought he would,” manager Jim Tracy said.
Chase Headley had a productive night for the struggling Padres with a solo shot in the first and a two-run homer in the sixth. It was the first career multihomer game for the third baseman, who grew up not far away in Fountain.
“I’m not going up there trying to hit home runs, but I do think there’s a lot more power in there that really hadn’t shown the last couple years,” said Headley, the 2002 valedictorian and academic All-American at Fourtain-Fort Carson High School. “I wanted to get my swing to where at least when I hit the ball it’s going to have a chance go out of the ballpark.”
Rockies star Troy Tulowitzki was given the night off, but Tracy said it wasn’t so the smooth-fielding shortstop could clear his head. Tulowitzki already has six errors this season, matching the total he had all of 2011 when he won his second consecutive Gold Glove. He had a two-error game Tuesday, his second in four games and only the fourth of his career.
Not only that, but Tulowitzki’s fielding funk has carried over into the batter’s box, where his average has dipped to .244.
“It ends up being a wonderful opportunity to give him a chance to step away from it for a couple of days,” Tracy said.
Tulowitzki’s good friend, Jason Giambi, took his message a step farther, taking the All-Star into the video room.
“Showed him some highlights of him playing and said, ‘That’s you. That’s you,’” Giambi said. “He’ll get through this just great. He’ll be fine.”
With Tulowitzki out, the Rockies inserted Marco Scutaro at short and gave Herrera the start at second.