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Rox can’t hold lead in Nicasio’s return to hill

Submitted by Sports on April 9, 2012 – 7:00 amNo Comment

HOUSTON — Juan Nicasio’s well-chronicled comeback story culminated with seven strong innings, but Sunday afternoon didn’t end the way the Rockies envisioned.

Third baseman Jordan Pacheco’s throwing error with two outs in the eighth opened the door for the Astros to pull out a 3-2 victory at Minute Maid Park, and take the three-game, season-opening series.

The Rockies, whose offense produced a two-run Wilin Rosario homer but also left six on base and went 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position, will play their home opener Monday against the Giants.

The Rockies dropped 2-of-3 to the Astros to open the year, and on Sunday didn’t come through with a victory in Nicasio’s first start since he suffered a fractured skull and a broken neck when a line drive by the Nationals’ Ian Desmond bounced off his head last Aug. 5.

With the Rockies leading, 2-1, in the eighth, setup man Rex Brothers (0-1) gave up a pair of two-out hits, the second of which was a J.D. Martinez liner that knocked off Brothers’ glove. Carlos Lee then hit a bouncer to Pacheco behind the bag at third, and Pacheco’s throw bounced past Michael Cuddyer at first base to allow Jose Altuve to score the tying run. Brian Bogusevic’s single to center drove in the winning run.

“I didn’t get a good grip on it, and threw it away,” Pacheco said. “It’s on me. I didn’t set my feet and didn’t make a good, strong throw over there.”

Manager Jim Tracy had subbed Dexter Fowler into center field at the start of the inning. Pacheco had seven starts at third last year but spent much of his Minor League time as a catcher. Chris Nelson, who has played less at third than Pacheco in the Majors (four games, including the first two of this series) but has been an infielder his entire pro career, was on the bench.

However, Tracy had planned to insert catcher Ramon Hernandez as a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the ninth, and he didn’t want to be left shorthanded in case the game went long and Pacheco had to catch.

At any rate, Tracy said the game should not have come down to being perfect defensively, especially after Nicasio held the Astros to one run and five hits in seven innings. Houston starter Bud Norris limited the Rockies to four hits and struck out eight in seven innings, with the only runs coming on Rosario’s homer.

“We got a marvelous pitching performance from Juan Nicasio, there’s no getting around that,” Tracy said. “But because of our inability to do anything offensively — other than the one swing Wilin Rosario took — we put ourselves in a position where any little mistake is going to get magnified and potentially cost you the game.”

Nicasio demonstrated through an eye-opening Spring Training that he had put last year’s scary incident behind him, and he pitched that way Sunday.

“I don’t want to think about it,” Nicasio said. “Get it out of the way. It’s time. I’ve been working, and it’s time.”

Nicasio, who gave up the only run when Altuve tripled to open the fourth and Lee doubled him home, threw 82 pitches, most of them fastballs. Nicasio and Opening Night winner Jeremy Guthrie each went seven innings, which fits with the Rockies’ plans. They sandwiched veteran left-hander Jamie Moyer, who went five frames Saturday night and is not expected to eat as many innings as Guthrie or Nicasio.

Rosario was Nicasio’s catcher at Double-A Tulsa last season, when both proved good enough to jump directly to the Majors. Rosario also caught Nicasio this winter in the Dominican Republic, where he shocked the club with his quick recovery.

“You see what he’s got — he’s got everything,” Rosario said. “Nothing has changed. It’s like nothing happened before. I know that guy like my hand.”

Norris handled the Rockies every bit as soundly as Lucas Harrell did Saturday night in the Astros’ 7-3 victory.

“Around the league, offense has started kind of slow — I’ve always said that pitching dominates at the beginning,” Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki said. “That held true for this series. It wasn’t very offensive.”

Brothers, who had thrown a dominating eighth against the Astros on Friday night, retired the first two Sunday, including Jordan Schafer with a strikeout. Martinez’s hard hit — Brothers said in retrospect he might have had a play but his first instinct was to hold it and not commit an error — and Pacheco’s error set up Bogusevic’s go-ahead single.

“That was a breaking ball that was going to be for a strike, but I didn’t want it that good in that situation, and he put a good swing on it,” Brothers said. “It’s a fine line. In the spring, I talked to people about with two outs slowing it down, and I didn’t think I did a good job.”

“Brothers is a real tough pitcher and real tough on lefties,” Bogusevic said, “and you have to take advantage of anything he gives you, because if you get behind him he’s going to be real hard on you.”

Cuddyer doubled to open the ninth, but Astros closer Brett Myers struck out Rosario, forced Hernandez (who entered 3-for-8 with a double against him) into a grounder, walked Todd Helton, then worked Tyler Colvin into a groundout for his first save of the season.

Thomas Harding is a reporter for

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