DENVER -- Even a veteran and former All-Star like Rockies right-hander Jon Garland is allowed some emotion when pitching under special circumstances -- such as Saturday night, his first start in 22 months.
"There was a lot more there than I was anticipating," Garland said.
But when it mattered, Garland remained cool and helped the Rockies stay hot. Garland forced 11 groundball outs in six innings, and Michael Cuddyer drove in four runs -- two on his second home run of the season -- as the Rockies won their fourth straight, 6-3, at Coors Field in front of 31,133.
Garland, 33, last pitched on June 1, 2011 for the Dodgers -- against the Rockies -- before undergoing a right-shoulder surgery that cost him the rest of that season and all of 2012. This year, Garland went to Spring Training with the Mariners on a Minor League contract and pitched well (1-0, 2.25 ERA in four starts), but their rotation was full, so he received his release and joined the Rockies.
He settled into his return to the mound just in time to provide the groundball pitching necessary to earn his first win since April 20, 2011. Garland held the Padres to two runs on five hits, with two strikeouts and two walks.
His best inning was the fourth, when Carlos Quentin doubled, Yonder Alonso singled and Jedd Gyorko walked to load the bases. Garland forced Alexi Amarista into a high bouncer for a force at second base, then extracted a double-play grounder from Cameron Maybin. Both the key grounders came on sliders, a pitch he used not only to force groundball contact, but to enhance his fastball.
A less-confident pitcher might have been flustered by the bad luck on the Amarista grounder, which bounded off the plate so high that a double play wasn't possible. Garland simply forced Maybin into the double play he wanted.
"It felt like the game slowed down for me, and when that happens, good things turn out," said Garland, who in four career appearances at Coors Field is 2-1 with a 3.81 ERA. "The main thing was I was able to make a pitch, not worry about what [the hitter] was going to do, and get an out. It's something that earlier in my career might have gotten away from me."
One reason Garland is here is a mostly young Rockies staff spent last year letting games spin out of control. That hasn't been the case so far in 2013.
Garland gave the Rockies (4-1) -- who will go for the series sweep Sunday afternoon -- their fourth quality start (six or more innings, three or fewer earned runs against) in five games.
Rockies manager Walt Weiss might have let Garland pitch longer, but he took into account that Garland's last time under game conditions was March 26. Because Spring Training had ended, the last time Garland exerted himself was in a simulated game last Sunday.
"That was another great start from one of our starting pitchers," Weiss said. "There's a lot to be proud of for Jon right there, having been away from pitching that long, competing like that and escaping some trouble in the fourth."
Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki said, "More than anything, you know what you're going to get -- a guy that throws strikes. He's going to get contact and do what we preached about, get groundballs."
Same as they did Friday in a 5-2 victory, the Rockies took advantage of an error by Padres shortstop Everth Cabrera to open their lead.
This time, Dexter Fowler drew a walk from losing pitcher Tyson Ross (0-1), and Cabrera bobbled Josh Rutledge's grounder. Against Padres reliever Brad Brach, Carlos Gonzalez, Tulowitzki and Cuddyer each followed with RBI singles. None were smoked.
"I've got to execute down in the zone more," Brach said. "It's frustrating. They hit it harder and it's an out. They hit it softer and it's an out. I've never seen it [happen] three times in a row."
Cuddyer's opposite-field shot to right in the seventh off Andrew Cashner, which made it 6-2, was the Rockies' 11th homer already. But he said not-so-hard hits like the ones in the fifth are just as important.
"That's the sign of good hitters," Cuddyer said. "Not every time are you going to be able to put the barrel on the ball. But to keep the bat in the zone long enough to fight through, you get balls to dump in, especially in this ballpark because the outfielders are playing deep."
Gyorko's eighth-inning RBI double against Rex Brothers -- which landed beyond the reach of a diving Cuddyer -- cut the Padres' deficit to three runs. Cuddyer actually rolled over his left wrist when he landed. After the game he said that while he didn't think the pain he was feeling was serious, he would see if swelling set in overnight.
The Padres would not cut any further into the lead, as Rafael Betancourt earned his third save with a scoreless ninth.
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.