Padres get crucial lengthy start from Shields

Right-hander goes 6 2/3 innings, taking pressure off bullpen

Padres get crucial lengthy start from Shields

DENVER -- Following a handful of short and forgettable starts on the last long road trip of the season, the Padres desperately needed James Shields to give them some innings Sunday.

Shields did that and more, as the Padres hit four home runs to a build a big early lead, settling for a 10-4 win over the Rockies that was largely built on the 15 hits the team scattered in and around Coors Field.

Yet for all the damage the Padres did with their bats, it was Shields' right arm that might have really saved them, as they avoided being swept in the series, finishing their road trip against the Giants, D-backs and Rockies with a 3-6 record.

"He was great," said Padres interim manager Pat Murphy. "[He] absolutely set the tone of the game, pitched like a veteran who has been there before. This team needed that in a huge way. That was impressive."

Shields' final line is a little misleading; He allowed four runs over 6 2/3 innings and had four walks and eight strikeouts while improving to 13-6 this season. Three of those runs came in his final inning.

Shields, who in his next start will surpass the 200-inning mark for what will be the ninth consecutive season, allowed a leadoff home run to Charlie Blackmon in the bottom of the first inning and not a whole lot else when it mattered most.

Shields allowed the one hit through six innings. He was charged with three runs in the seventh inning, though two of those scored when reliever Bud Norris allowed a two-run single to Ben Paulsen.

"I was executing my pitches. In all reality, the first batter of the game, Blackmon, I felt I executed my pitch. I threw a high fastball, which he happened to get on top of it. I threw my two-seamer and kept the ball down," Shields said.

Against Colorado, he showed good life on his fastball and was able to finish hitters with his changeup and curveball. Two of his eight strikeouts came on fastballs.

It's not always easy at this higher elevation to have command on breaking balls and other secondary pitches, but Shields had a plan for that Sunday.

"The ball isn't going to break as much," he explained. "With the elevation, you're not going to have as crisp stuff. I think instead of setting your sights at the belt, you have to set them at the knees and throw them down in the zone."

How much did the Padres need Shields' start?

Going into Sunday's series finale against the Rockies, Padres starting pitchers had a 6.70 ERA to show for the first eight games of this road trip.

Worse yet, in four of those starts, the team's starting pitcher did not complete five innings, leaving the Padres to lean on a taxed bullpen more often than not.

"I like the Rockies' lineup," Murphy said. "They're swinging the bat great, and I think James made huge pitches in big spots. He was the MVP of this ballgame."

Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. Keep track of @FollowThePadres on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.