Eric Risberg/Associated Press
SAN FRANCISCO – It had been so long since Jim Tracy watched Jorge De La Rosa pitch, Colorado’s manager could take the positive out of a rough stretch for his Rockies.
De La Rosa returned to the big league mound for the first time in more than a year during his team’s 9-2 loss Thursday to the NL West-leading San Francisco Giants, and the lefty showed plenty of encouraging signs in 3 2/3 innings.
“After 16 months I’m very pleased with what I saw from our starting pitcher,” Tracy said. “We did a poor job of taking care of the baseball. Two miscues led to seven runs. But the bright spot was the left-handed pitcher who showed he’s getting himself back to the guy he can be, and then some.”
It was a short day for De La Rosa – but that might have been expected as he came off the 60-day disabled list. He pitched for the first time since May 24, 2011, when he left an outing with elbow soreness and later underwent Tommy John surgery.
De La Rosa was tagged for five earned runs, six in all, and seven hits in 3 2/3 innings. De La Rosa and Jonathan Herrera each had RBI singles for Colorado.
Rockies slugger Carlos Gonzalez didn’t return to the outfield in the bottom of the second after grounding into an inning-ending double play in the first.
He played the entire game Wednesday – with two strikeouts and two groundouts – but was a late scratch Tuesday night with a tight left hamstring. He reaggravated the leg injury during Thursday’s game.
“I tried to go full speed to beat the throw to first,” Gonzalez said. “I’ve pulled the leg before, so it’s nothing. I just have to wait until it feels good again before I play a game.”
The Rockies were swept in a four-game series in San Francisco for the first time since July 17-20, 2003. They went 2-7 at AT&T Park this year and went 4-14 against the Giants.
Still, De La Rosa’s comeback made up for some of the sting of a sixth consecutive loss.
“It feels good to get back out there and pitch,” he said. “At the same time, I didn’t get the results I wanted. Everything felt good though, and I can work a lot more. It’s all the same thing, you want to make your pitches, and if you don’t they will hurt you. But things felt normal.”
Switch-hitter Pablo Sandoval sure hurt the Rockies. He homered from both sides of the plate, and the first-place Giants reduced their magic number to clinch the division to four.
“It’s all up to us to take care of business,” manager Bruce Bochy said.
Buster Posey also connected for the Giants to back another strong start by Barry Zito (13-8) as San Francisco completed a four-game sweep.
Zito won his fifth consecutive decision and has done everything to earn himself a spot in the postseason rotation after being left off all three rounds for the 2010 World Series champions.
The second-place Dodgers were set for a night game at Washington, trailing by 9˝ games. San Francisco (87-63) moved a season-best 24 games above .500, its best since finishing the 2003 season 39 games over.
“The view looks great right now,” Angel Pagan said. “We have to really make sure. We can’t talk about playoffs right now.”
Sandoval connected from both sides for the first time in his career – at any level, he said. Batting right-handed, he hit the first pitch he saw from De La Rosa (0-1) into the left-field stands for a solo homer in the first inning.
Sandoval hit a three-run drive into the elevated right-field arcade in the fourth. It marked his fifth career multihomer game. His last came Sept. 18, 2011, also against the Rockies at Coors Field.
“I’m comfortable at home plate. I don’t try to hit home runs,” said Sandoval, who snapped a homerless drought of 161 at-bats Wednesday night. “When you don’t try, things go your way. I got lucky, man.”
Posey – making an MVP bid and drawing chants of “M-V-P!” – followed Sandoval’s fourth-inning shot with his 23rd home run. The Giants homered in consecutive at-bats for the second time this season after departed Nate Schierholtz and Brandon Crawford did so April 11 at Colorado.
Marco Scutaro’s fourth-inning single gave him a career-best 175 hits and extended his hitting streak to 10 games. He added an RBI single in the sixth and has hit safely in 42 of 51 games since joining the Giants from the Rockies on July 27.
Zito received more than enough support in the latest impressive start during his comeback year. The Giants won for the ninth consecutive time in one of his outings, and Zito’s 13 victories are his most with the Giants and most since a 16-win season in 2006 for Oakland.
The left-hander, who has been disappointing since receiving a $126-million, seven-year contract ahead of the 2007 season, walked off the mound to yet another standing ovation in the sixth. He raised his right hand and pointed to the sellout crowd of 41,157 in appreciation.
Zito struck out six and walked one in 5 2/3 innings, allowing two runs and a season-high 10 hits. He hasn’t lost since Aug. 2 against the Mets.
“It’s nice to be able to go out there and have fun and be loose in September,” Zito said. “When you have fun, you’re relaxed, good things happen.”