SAN DIEGO -- This whole learn-as-you-go endeavor continues to be a mixed bag of results for 22-year-old pitcher Casey Kelly, something that's not unusual for a rookie trying to find his way in his first big league stint.
One lesson, however, has apparently taken hold more than anything: Command trumps all else.
"The last couple of starts have opened my eyes to where my command needs to be," Kelly said.
It was certainly good for most of his start Saturday, as he opened the game with six scoreless innings in what eventually became a 4-3 victory by the Padres over the Rockies before a crowd of 27,651 at Petco Park.
Kelly, who won for the first time since his Major League debut on Aug. 27, displayed strong command of his curveball, a pitch that gave the Rockies (58-86) fits.
"I'll tell you, he had a terrific breaking ball early, as evidence by the strikeouts, the two-strike pitches in the dirt, making them strikes out of the hand," said Colorado manager Jim Tracy. "He pitched down in the zone very well. He pitched effectively ahead in the early part of the game."
The Rockies got to Kelly for three runs -- two earned -- in the seventh inning as he allowed an RBI double to Chris Nelson and an RBI single to Charlie Blackmon. That's when Padres manager Bud Black opted to go to the bullpen for another rookie, Brad Brach.
Brach allowed a run to score on a sacrifice fly but got the next two hitters out -- with two on base -- to protect the Padres' one-run lead.
"They had some momentum," Black said. "Those were big outs. And it shifted the momentum back to us. Our relief pitchers did a nice job."
Brach wasn't about to give away the lead, not after watching how well Kelly pitched.
"He did an awesome job," Brach said. "I wanted to make sure those two runs didn't score."
Kelly (2-1) allowed two earned runs on seven hits in six innings. He didn't walk a batter and finished with six strikeouts, most of which came on curveballs. He also got 10 ground-ball outs.
"The command was a little better than that last start," Kelly said. "I got ahead of hitters more, got a lot more ground balls. They've got a good lineup and they can hurt you."
Kelly would know. In his second Major League start on Sept. 2, he allowed five earned runs over 5 2/3 innings in a no-decision of a game the Padres lost, 11-10.
"The breaking ball was very solid, both for the called strike and the below-the-zone strikeout," Black said. "What I liked was his velocity came back today. The ball had carry. The ball-strike ratio was great. He was very efficient."
Leading 1-0, the Padres (70-76) forged a bigger lead on one swing of the bat, when Jesus Guzman hit a home run to straight away center field, his seventh of the season. Logan Forsythe singled earlier in the inning and Chase Headley walked ahead of Guzman.
The Padres scored first in the second inning. With two outs, Cameron Maybin singled. Then, Andy Parrino hit a blooper to short right. Rockies second baseman DJ LeMahieu backed up into the outfield and collided with Blackmon, who was coming in on the play. The ball dropped in for an RBI double, as Maybin raced around to score.
Kelly ran into some trouble in the fifth inning when he allowed singles to Chris Nelson and Blackmon to start the inning. But he struck out LeMahieu and catcher Yasmani Grandal completed the play by getting Blackmon as he tried to steal second base. Carlos Torres then struck out to end the inning.
After the game, Tracy heaped plenty of praise on Kelly, who has four Major League starts and figures to get at least two more before the end of the regular season, with his learning curve continuing each and every step along the way.
"For a young kid to go out there and pitch in the manner that he did, I'm sure they feel strongly -- as they should -- that moving forward that's a wonderful piece they have," Tracy said. "There's no question about that."