CINCINNATI -- The Rockies lost yet another one-run game Thursday afternoon, 2-1, to the Reds at Great American Ball Park in front of 20,546, but that's a familiar story. What's new is that they may be finding a new No. 1 pitcher.
Jhoulys Chacin (9-9) gave up two runs on four hits, all with two outs, in the first inning, but blanked the Reds the rest of the way on just two additional hits, tying a career high with nine strikeouts while notching his second career complete game. Reds starter Johnny Cueto (8-5), another bright young arm, struck out nine on three hits over seven innings to earn the win.
The loss -- which would have been a shutout, if not for Seth Smith's leadoff home run off Francisco Cordero (22 saves) in the ninth -- left the Rockies with a split of the four-game series, after they had beaten the Reds in the first two games. The Rockies will begin a three-game series at St. Louis on Friday night.
A tough loss? Yes. But it could play a role in toughening and sharpening Chacin, 23. With Ubaldo Jimenez having been traded to the Indians and Jorge De La Rosa not expected back from Tommy John surgery on his left elbow until three months into next season, Chacin looks to be the Rockies' precocious pitching leader.
"I just want pitch a good game, give a chance for the team to win," Chacin said. "That's what you're asked to do -- pitch well, and give your team a lot of innings."
Chacin struck out four in a row and retired 14 straight in one stretch. The Rockies had just one good shot against Cueto. Chacin and Dexter Fowler singled and Mark Ellis walked with two out in the fifth. Bue Cueto struck out Carlos Gonzalez on a 98-mph fastball.
"That was a tremendous pitching performance on both sides of the field by two young kids," Rockies manager Jim Tracy said. "They are not only two of the more dynamic young kids in the league right now, but God willing and health doesn't become an issue for either one of them, [they] will continue to be."
"[Chacin], he pitched excellent," said Reds manager Dusty Baker. "He was pitching. So was Cueto. They're young. They're still learning. Every pitch counts."
With two out in the first, the Reds' Joey Votto doubled off the left-field wall. Chacin nearly had Votto picked off second, but shortstop Jonathan Herrera could not handle the throw. Votto then scored on Jay Bruce's single. After Ramon Hernandez's single, Drew Stubbs bounced to third baseman Chris Nelson, who first attempted to get an out at third, then threw wildly to first to allow a run.
"That was most frustrating to me, getting two outs with four pitches and then giving two runs up," Chacin said.
After the first, Chacin held the Reds to two hits -- Bruce's one-out double in the sixth and Dave Sappelt's two-out single in the seventh. The Reds had the bases loaded in the seventh, thanks to two walks, but Chacin forced Votto to line out to right field.
Chacin possesses advanced secondary pitches, and his changeup and slider were effective on Thursday, but the difference between Thursday and some of his rougher starts was the way he commanded his fastball.
In his most recent start, when he struggled through five innings but earned a win against the Nationals, he struggled in placing his fastball, due in part to inflammation in his right hand that he suffered while hitting in his previous start.
The hand was back to normal on Thursday, and Chacin bordered on dominant. Since a rough stretch from late June through the middle of July, when he went 0-3 in five starts with a 5.71 ERA and 24 walks in 34 2/3 innings, Chacin is 1-2 with a 2.39 ERA in 26 1/3 innings over four starts.
"When I struggled, I was not going to put my head down or think too much," Chacin said. "Now, I'm throwing better, and I feel good about it. I learned from Ubaldo. He was good in the first half of last year, then he wasn't good. But he never put his head down and he kept trying, kept working."
The Rockies had a chance to rally in the eighth, when Fowler walked and Ellis singled against southpaw reliever Aroldis Chapman. However, Chapman worked Gonzalez into a double-play grounder -- the third time Gonzalez has been doubled up in two days. Gonzalez launched a pitch earlier in that at-bat deep to right, but it veered foul.
"It's too bad that ball didn't stay fair, but sometimes things don't go the way you want," Gonzalez said.
Chapman then fanned Eliezer Alfonzo, who hit cleanup because Troy Tulowizki was out of the lineup with leg soreness.
Smith opened the ninth with his 12th homer of the season and his third against the Reds in the series. Tulowitzki pinch-hit with two down in the ninth and lined to Votto, who was playing off the bag, as opposed to protecting the first-base line in a normal "no doubles" defense.
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.