SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Pitching and defense ruled the day as the Reds and Rockies staged a rare spring pitching duel Thursday, with Rockies hurlers perfect through three innings and Reds pitchers retiring the first eight hitters they faced in a 4-3 Colorado win over split-squad Cincinnati.
The Rockies' Juan Nicasio bounced back after a rough first outing to record four groundouts and two strikeouts in his two innings on the hill. He was followed by Jeff Francis, who pitched a perfect third, watching the first ball from either team leave the infield with one out, only to drop into the glove of center fielder Dexter Fowler.
Aroldis Chapman proved their equal for Cincinnati, throwing two perfect innings with four groundouts, a dropped-third-strike strikeout, and a popup to second. It was his first outing of the Cactus League, and his perfect performance bodes well for his bid to crack the Reds' rotation this spring.
"I feel really happy about it," Chapman said via interpreter Tomas Vera. "I could locate the pitches where I wanted. The results were good."
Of Chapman's 23 pitches over two innings, 19 were strikes.
The Rockies's Matt McBride broke through with the game's first hit in the bottom of the third, launching a triple off the left-field wall, but he was then stranded. In the next frame, Jordan Pacheco drilled a double to center, then scored on Nolan Arenado's double to center, with Arenado advancing to third on an error from center fielder Denis Phipps.
Arenado kicked off a highlight play in the top of the fifth as Jeff Francis allowed base hits to the first two Reds he faced then coaxed a grounder to third out of Zack Cozart. Arenado grabbed the ball on the bounce, stepped on third base, fired to Eric Young Jr. at second, and watched Young turn beautifully to catch Cozart with a throw to Henry Wrigley at first.
"I knew it was a triple play as soon as he caught it," Francis said. "Just because it was a one-hopper to his right. I know Cozart runs pretty well, but I just said, 'No way, this is happening.' I called it. I said to myself, 'Well, this will be nice.'"
The Reds tied the score in the sixth when Xavier Paul knocked a two out single and Brandon Phillips doubled home pinch-runner Billy Hamilton, both coming off Matt Belisle.
Cincinnati took its first lead off Rockies reliever Logan Kensing, as the journeyman right-hander gave up a single and double to Neftali Soto and Seth Mejias-Brean, then, after striking out two, gave up a two-run single to left off the bat of Devin Mesoraco.
Colorado reclaimed the lead with a three-run rally in the seventh when DJ LeMahieu doubled in Gustavo Molina and Mejias-Brean made two errors, yielding two runs on one play.
Up next: It's bubble day on the bump for the Rockies on Friday as a handful of pitchers will continue their campaign to make the roster while hosting the Brewers for a 1:10 p.m. MT game. Rule 5 Draft choice Danny Rosenbaum and non-roster invitee Chris Volstad make their second appearance after throwing a pair of scoreless innings each in their debuts Monday. Adam Ottavino, Rob Scahill, Manny Corpas, and Wilton Lopez will follow.
Up next: Mat Latos will be making his first Cactus League start when the Reds travel to Surprise and face the Royals at 3:05 p.m. ET on Friday. Several key relievers are due to follow Latos, including Sean Marshall, Jonathan Broxton and Sam LeCure.
Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.