"He's been dominant at times early and run into some trouble around the sixth inning," Rockies manager Walt Weiss said. "It's tough to say exactly why. His focus is good. It's just been somewhat of a trend for Juan this year."
It's a subject of much conjecture, and one the Rockies no doubt will mull as they make room for onetime perennial Cy Young Award candidate Roy Oswalt, who threw 8 1/3 dazzling innings at Double-A Tulsa on Friday in what most figure is his final Minor League tuneup.
However, the pitching of Nicasio -- 5 2/3 innings, seven hits and five runs -- wasn't the only factor that undid the Rockies, who got a four-hit night with a home run from Carlos Gonzalez and a two-run homer from Josh Rutledge in his return after a three-week demotion to Triple-A Colorado Springs.
The offense responded with 13 hits in the Rockies' first game without star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, whose fractured right rib will cost him 4-6 weeks. Gonzalez, whose first-inning homer was his 19th to lift him into a tie with the Phillies' Domonic Brown for the National League lead, was playing with a freshly bruised left foot and a two-week long battle with left knee tendinitis. Dexter Fowler suffered a bruised right knuckle and was limited to pinch-running.
Nonetheless, the Phillies' Freddy Galvis delivered a pair of two-run triples, one apiece off Nicasio and reliever Wilton Lopez, as the Rockies lost their third straight and fell out of a tie with the Giants and into third place in the National League West.
"It's hard," Rockies catcher Yorvit Torrealba said. "We just lost one of the keys on this team, Tulowitzki, and to be able to score seven runs, we probably thought we had that game."
The Rockies peppered Phillies starter Kyle Kendrick for seven runs on 10 hits. But the Phillies won with offensive momentum and scoreless relief from Jeremy Horst, Michael Stutes (2-0), Jake Diekman, Justin De Fratus, Mike Adams and Jonathan Papelbon (13th save).
Gonzalez singled with one out in the ninth and ignored the pain to steal second, but Papelbon forced Todd Helton to ground to short to end the game.
"We played sloppy at first and we hung in there," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "We stayed around, and our bullpen did a good job when our hitting picked up."
At least Nicasio left with a tenuous 7-5 lead. But up-and-down right-hander Lopez (1-3), who hasn't been the ground-ball pitcher the Rockies expected when they acquired him from the Astros during the offseason, gave up the lead by allowing three hits and two runs, plus letting an inherited runner score, while managing just one out in the seventh.
The speculation will be about whether Oswalt will bump Nicasio or lefty Jeff Francis -- coming off a strong outing -- from the rotation, or whether Nicasio could end up in the bullpen. But with closer Rafael Betancourt (right groin) and righty middle reliever Edgmer Escalona (right elbow) each on the disabled list, the Rockies can't afford for a reliever of Lopez's late-inning ilk to be less than dependable.
Friday's rough outing came a day after Lopez was called for consecutive balks that let the tying run sore in an eventual loss to the Nationals.
"It's just a matter of being up in the zone," Weiss said. "His bread and butter has been he's been a ground-ball guy at the bottom of the zone. He gets in trouble when the ball is elevated."
Lopez, who nearly escaped the seventh scoreless but allowed John Mayberry to work him into a walk on eight pitches, left the clubhouse as reporters arrived.
Nicasio graciously stuck around and said he remains aggressive, even though the results after about five innings are spinning away from him. Torrealba said the Galvis triple off him involved bad luck -- Helton almost had it behind the first-base bag -- but added it was a straight and poorly located changeup.
"I tried to finish the inning, make a pitch, throw the ball down," Nicasio said. "I had a lead. I tried to make the hitter hit the ball. I tried to throw a fastball in the middle, and the hitter, he swings ...
"In the sixth, I lost command a little bit. The fastball was up in the zone."
Torrealba said, "There's something about that inning. He probably knew that was going to be his last inning and tried to be too nasty, tried too hard to make his pitches.
"I see a lot of potential in the guy. I can see him winning 15 games in one year, maybe more. It's a great arm. You've got to keep working with him."
The Rockies like the idea of Nicasio's power arm in the rotation, but have to decide the best use for that arm as Oswalt arrives and the season evolves.