SAN FRANCISCO -- Left-hander Jorge De La Rosa experienced on Thursday what he has both missed and needed since undergoing Tommy John surgery last year -- the intensity of a Major League game.
And even though he could have done without it, De La Rosa also received a taste of the odd and shaky baseball that has marked the Rockies' season. De La Rosa pitched competitively even without his top fastball velocity, but suffered through 3 2/3 innings of mistakes and defensive miscues to ultimately be saddled with a 9-2 loss to the Giants at AT&T Park.
"After 16 months, I was very pleased with what I saw from our starter today," manager Jim Tracy said. "The unfortunate thing was, we did a poor job of taking care of the baseball. We had two defensive miscues that would eventually lead to seven runs."
The last-place Rockies (58-91) are now four losses from matching the worst finish in their 20-season history, and they need to win five of their final 13 games to avoid reaching triple digits in losses. That's a modest success rate, but the Rockies return to Coors Field on Friday for their final homestand having lost six straight and 14 of their last 17.
Two errors led to Giants runs -- first a dropped infield popup by rookie Wilin Rosario in his first Major League game at first base in the bottom of the second, then a one-hop throw from Chris Nelson in the fourth that Rosario was unable to handle.
"They were tough plays for them," De La Rosa said. "You have to give credit to them. Sometimes that happens, and I'm just happy to be back, and I'm ready for the next one."
De La Rosa (0-1), who sustained his elbow injury on May 24 of last season and endured two setbacks in Minor League rehab assignments, topped out at 92 mph and gave up seven hits and six runs, five earned. But he stayed in the strike zone, throwing 44 of his 70 pitches for strikes. He gave up the first of Pablo Sandoval's two home runs, a solo shot in the first inning, before the game took on a Spring Training feel.
"I never thought that he would swing at that pitch," De La Rosa said of the fastball down the middle of the plate that Sandoval sent to left-field seats. "I thought he would sit and wait to see how I would pitch. I know he's a first-pitch swinger, but I never thought that he would swing at that pitch."
De La Rosa left the game in the fourth inning and watched as Edgmer Escalona served up consecutive home runs to Sandoval -- a three-run shot for his 10th of the season and third of the series -- and Buster Posey, his 23rd.
Rookie Josh Rutledge doubled off Giants starter Barry Zito (13-8) -- who gave up two runs on 10 hits and struck out six in 5 2/3 innings -- to open the second. But Rutledge made an ill-advised attempt at taking third on Jordan Pacheco's grounder, and Giants shortstop Joaquin Arias threw him out easily to kill a possible rally.
"They hit some good pitches today, so I had to battle a lot," Zito said. "But the boys played some good 'D,' and I was able to minimize [the scoring]."
And despite the lopsided loss, De La Rosa gave Tracy and the Rockies some semblance of optimism as they approach the end of the season.
"The bright spot is that obviously, a very important left-handed starting pitcher for us was coming out there and showing signs that he is going to get himself back to be being the guy that we know he is capable of being, and hopefully then some," Tracy said. "I thought his fastball command, for the most part, was good, and he threw some terrific changeups. He threw a couple of real good curveballs."
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, and follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.