There were whispers in mid-March that Jorge De La Rosa might begin the season in extended spring training. There were concerns about his body language, his lack of composure. The Rockies talked to him about controlling his emotions, about focusing on contributing.

When a team has a payroll in the bottom third, the highest-paid players have to perform. The business model fails miserably otherwise.

So in a loss Monday, their first in nine innings this season, the Rockies won in a way that could resonate for weeks. De La Rosa pitched better Monday night than at any time since his elbow ligament surgery in June 2011.

He made a mistake to the Giants' Hunter Pence, allowing a three-run, first-inning home run. But even that pitch had a purpose. There were two runners aboard. Pence is a notoriously eager hitter. The idea was to get him out in front on a changeup, to roll it over or pop it up for an easy out. Pence read the pitch out of De La Rosa's hand and clobbered it.

That was the Giants' last run off De La Rosa, who held them scoreless over the next five innings.

"That was really good stuff. With some of the guys, they need to shake off the ring rust," assistant general manager Bill Geivett said.

De La Rosa talked convincingly last month about how he had cleared mental hurdles. He was no longer afraid to throw his slider and curveball. The worst was behind him.

Shawn Estes would know. The left-hander won 15 games for the Rockies in 2004. He also had Tommy John surgery. He's working on the Giants' broadcasts and spent time studying De La Rosa's outings before surgery, in spring training and Monday. The conclusion?

"The stuff is still there. He has a good fastball. The slider is there, and I think the changeup might be his best pitch," said Estes, referencing the Buster Posey at-bat when De La Rosa struck out the Giants' best hitter before Pence stepped into the box. "After the first inning, his location was really good."