DENVER -- The standards are rising for Rockies right-hander Juan Nicasio.
Nicasio did not last more than six innings in any of his first 16 starts. Often games were winnable for the first five innings but spun out of control in the sixth. Since returning from a two-start demotion to Triple-A Colorado Springs, Nicasio has had two games in which he has gone seven innings with no runs, and he has generally been better.
Now Nicasio (6-6, 5.04 ERA), whose next start is Friday in Baltimore, must prove he can find his way to the later innings when he is not feeling at his best. His latest start, on Saturday night, was one that would have been celebrated at the start of the year but is now simply OK.
Nicasio held the Pirates to one run in the first five innings and had two out in the sixth when Garrett Jones knocked an RBI triple and scored on a subsequent single before Nicasio was removed, having thrown 102 pitches. The Rockies trailed just 3-1 and came back for a 6-4 victory.
To his credit, Nicasio said his arm did not feel particularly sharp. It did not hurt, but it also did not have its normal spring. He is capable of fastballs in the 94-96 mph range, but he spent the night in the 88-92 range. He was trying to sink the ball, but only because he did not have his top-end velocity.
Also on the plus side, as catcher Wilin Rosario noted, was that when he really needed pitches, he made them all except for the one to Jones.
But even if he did not hang the slider to Jones, his high pitch count meant there was little chance he would have been allowed to pitch the seventh.
"My arm felt a little tired, a little down," Nicasio said. "Like I saw when I was talking to [pitching coach] Jim Wright, it wasn't hurting. I'm sure it will come back. I wish I could have thrown to one more hitter.
"It's hard when you make a mistake."
Nicasio was happy the Rockies won. But more important to him is that he holds himself to a high standard.
"It was an OK game, you know?" Nicasio said. "Throwing 5 2/3 innings is not the best I can do. Even if my arm doesn't feel good, I need to do it, I need to finish or get deep in games."
Rosario strains hamstring in Rockies' loss
DENVER -- Rockies catcher Wilin Rosario strained his right hamstring after he a hit a two-run single in the first inning of Tuesday night's 7-5 loss to the Padres.
Rosario said after the game that the injury was not serious, identifying it as tightness rather than a serious pull. Rosario did finish the game but did not leg out a grounder in the seventh, a sign he might be battling an injury.
"In the first inning, I felt my hamstring tight," Rosario said. "So that's why I can't run that hard [in the seventh]."
Rosario said the injury only slowed him on the bases and was not a hindrance behind the plate. He also said he might rest during Wednesday's series finale against the Padres to prepare for Interleague Play in Baltimore that starts Friday.
"I think he'll be sore tomorrow," Rockies manager Walt Weiss said. "We'll check with him, but he was pretty sore the rest of the game."
Rosario is swinging the bat as well as he has all year, reaching base in seven straight games after finishing 1-for-5 in Tuesday night's loss. It was his third game of the homestand with multiple RBIs, and he hit .367 with a homer and nine RBIs over that span.
Cuddyer eager to return from stomach virus
DENVER -- A day after moving between his bed and a couch was a demanding task, Michael Cuddyer stood in Walt Weiss' office, trying to convince his manager he could play.
After missing two games with a crippling stomach virus, Cuddyer was back in the Rockies' clubhouse Tuesday afternoon. But Weiss wanted to give his right fielder more time to recover from an illness that Cuddyer said four of the five members of his family had battled.
"He came into my office and tried to talk his way into it," Weiss said. "I wanted to give him a day to run around out here. He's been in bed for a couple days, give him a day to work out before you throw him in the lineup."
Cuddyer said anyone who has had a stomach virus knows what he endured, saying the sickness "hits you from one second to the next." He did take batting practice before pinch-hitting for starter Jeff Manship in the fifth inning of Tuesday's game against the Padres, and Weiss said he expected Cuddyer to return to the starting lineup Wednesday.
An All-Star approaching the tail end of one of the best years of his career, Cuddyer is hitting .328 with 17 home runs and 66 RBIs.
Rockies encouraged by Chatwood's status
DENVER -- Rockies starter Tyler Chatwood played catch Tuesday, the first step as he attempts to return from right elbow inflammation.
Chatwood said he also played catch Monday, throwing from 90 feet both times, and hopes to throw a bullpen this weekend in Baltimore, though nothing has been scheduled yet. The club placed Chatwood -- who has not pitched since July 31 -- on the 15-day disabled list Thursday (retroactive to Aug. 1).
"He's coming along well," Rockies manager Walt Weiss said. "Playing catch, that's as much as he's done so far. But no issues there and not sure exactly when he'll throw his next bullpen. He's progressing toward that quickly."
Since he returned to the big leagues in late April, Chatwood has been one of the Rockies' most reliable starters.
The right-hander allowed two earned runs or fewer in 12 of 15 starts, going 7-4 with a 3.15 ERA. His ERA stayed comfortably under three until his final start before he went on the DL, when he served up 10 hits and eight runs (seven earned) over just 2 1/3 innings in a 9-0 loss to the Braves.
After slipping out of the playoff picture -- possibly temporarily -- following a brutal 1-9 road trip that ended Thursday, some questioned whether the Rockies would even test their promising young pitcher's arm this year. Weiss, however, said he expected Chatwood to play before season's end.
"Yeah, I do," Weiss said. "It's been encouraging last few days that he's able to go out there. He's got full range of motion."
After setback, Oswalt progressing again
DENVER -- Rockies right-hander Roy Oswalt is taking the slow route back to the mound this time.
Oswalt sustained a left hamstring strain July 7 and seemed to be making startling progress until Aug. 3, when the hamstring tightened on him during his first simulated game. Oswalt backed off on his routine, but he has started playing catch and is hoping to resume bullpen sessions this weekend and play a simulated game next week.
If all goes well, Oswalt could build himself enough to come off the disabled list and return to the mound before season's end.
"I thought I was going to defy the odds and do something nobody else has ever done," Oswalt said with a smile. "But the good thing is I didn't push it to the point where I reinjured it like it was the first time. When it started cramping, it was more protection than anything.
"I've never been on the DL this long. I've been on the DL a couple times, but 15-day stuff. It's funny. You hear different things like, 'He gets hurt a lot.' The fewest things I ever started in the big leagues [in a full season] was 30, except for one year, when I tore my groin three different times."
Last year with the Rangers and this year with the Rockies, Oswalt missed Spring Training while awaiting a suitable contract offer. This year, he did not have an opportunity to pitch as a starter until the Rockies called after the season started. If Oswalt returns to the mound, he could have the chance to entice the Rockies to make an offer for next year.
"We haven't talked yet," Oswalt said. "I like the part of getting to work with these young guys and trying to pass on some of the stuff I learned from some of the guys that were around before me. I'm getting to see what these guys do, and maybe I can help them."
Ian McCue is an associate reporter for MLB.com. 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.