Making his first appearance against the Rockies, Strasburg will try to become the first Nationals pitcher to win seven consecutive starts Monday night at Coors Field.
Washington (41-29) is in first place in large part because it has the best ERA in baseball at 2.95. Strasburg (9-1, 2.46 ERA) is the unquestioned ace of the staff, striking out 54 and walking 10 since his last loss.
The right-hander, who leads the majors with 11.8 strikeouts per nine innings, fanned 10 and helped the Nationals end a four-game losing streak with seven innings of two-run ball in Wednesday's 3-2 victory over Tampa Bay.
"He seemed to get stronger as the game went on," manager Davey Johnson told the Nationals' official website. "Great seven innings. He's a true No. 1, and he's still learning. I think the best is yet to come with him."
That does not bode well for a Rockies team that's dropped 14 of 17, going 3-6 on its longest trip of the season.
Heading back to Denver for seven games isn't likely giving the team much consolation. Colorado (27-44) is in the midst of a six-game skid at Coors Field, the team's longest home losing streak since dropping its final seven last year.
Giving the ball to Jeff Francis (0-1, 8.56) is certainly no guarantee that the Rockies will avoid matching that slide, but he might give them as good a chance as any other starter to get back into the win column. The left-hander has shown steady improvement in three starts since returning to Colorado as a free agent June 9, and he's started two of the team's three victories since June 4.
That was the day the Rockies last had a starter win a game, as Christian Friedrich defeated Arizona. If Francis is going to pick up his first victory of 2012, he'll have to be efficient after Tracy decided last week to go with a four-man rotation.
"We don't care if it's getting blown up (in the media) or not," Francis told the Rockies' official website. "If there's a way that we can make it work, then we're gonna do it."
Morse hit .464 (13 for 28) with a homer and seven RBIs in those contests, while Zimmerman was 10 for 26 with five RBIs.
Zimmerman, a career .348 hitter against Colorado for his highest average against any team, got a cortisone shot in his sore right shoulder before going 2 for 4 with an RBI in Sunday's 2-1 loss to Baltimore.
"We just decided that would give me a chance to continue to play and not miss any more time," said Zimmerman, who is batting .223. "It took that pain and pressure away from me that has been bothering me for a while."
While the Rockies' pitching has struggled mightily, the team got good production from infielder Chris Nelson and outfielder Carlos Gonzalez on its recent trip. Nelson hit .355 (11 for 31) with three homers and nine RBIs while Gonzalez was 11 for 29 with a home run.
|June 17, 2012||Ian Desmond||Day-to-Day||Oblique soreness|
|June 11, 2012||Roger Bernadina||Day-to-Day||Left game - strained right hamstring|
|June 10, 2012||Bryce Harper||Day-to-Day||Sore back|
|June 06, 2012||Henry Rodriguez||15-Day DL||Strained right index finger|
|May 30, 2012||Carlos Maldonado||15-Day DL||Lower back strain|
|May 27, 2012||Chad Tracy||15-Day DL||Groin soreness|
|June 17, 2012||Carlos Gonzalez||Day-to-Day||Sore right hamstring|
|June 03, 2012||Juan Nicasio||15-Day DL||Strained left knee|
|June 02, 2012||Jordan Pacheco||Day-to-Day||Sore left quadricep|
|June 02, 2012||Juan Nicasio||Day-to-Day||Left game - strained left knee|
|May 31, 2012||Troy Tulowitzki||15-Day DL||Strained left groin muscle|
|May 24, 2012||Ramon Hernandez||15-Day DL||Strained muscle, left hand|
DENVER (AP) -- Washington ace Stephen Strasburg made his first career start at Coors Field on Monday night, and he's still in search of his first win at Colorado's longtime home.
Strasburg pitched six innings, but the Rockies rallied for a 4-2 victory over the Nationals that snapped the right-hander's six-start winning streak.
"I went out there and pounded the strike zone," Strasburg said. "It seemed they were just hitting it right beyond our gloves, basically. It's baseball and they did a good job of battling up there. They were just trying to take what was given to them and regardless of how bad it looked, they got some hits."
Jeff Francis pitched five effective innings as the Rockies won for just the fourth time in 18 games. Todd Helton delivered a tiebreaking sacrifice fly in the sixth inning and Dexter Fowler had two hits.
Strasburg (9-2) allowed three runs and six hits. He was bidding to become the first Washington-based pitcher to win seven straight starts since Bob Porterfield did it in his final seven starts for the Senators in 1953. The last pitcher from the Nationals franchise to win seven straight starts was Pedro Martinez in 1997 for the Montreal Expos, who moved to Washington.
Strasburg helped himself with a tiebreaking RBI double in the fifth, putting the Nationals ahead 2-1. He also had a sacrifice in the third that set up Ryan Zimmerman 's run-scoring double.
But the Rockies went ahead for good in the sixth. Fowler led off with a triple into the right-field corner. Strasburg then beaned Marco Scutaro with his first pitch, with the ball bouncing off Scutaro's helmet. He got up quickly but was replaced by Chris Nelson after being examined by Rockies trainer Keith Dugger.
Strasburg said he threw a sinker that got away from him.
"It's part of baseball and you try and get in and obviously, you never want to hit a guy in the head," he said. "You think about it for a second, hope that he's OK. But once I saw him walk off I figured he'd be OK."
Rockies manager Jim Tracy said after the game that Scutaro "is going to be OK."
Carlos Gonzalez followed with a run-scoring single, and Michael Cuddyer 's base hit loaded the bases. Helton then drove in Nelson with a fly ball to center field.
"Helton did a good job on a breaking ball," Strasburg said, "getting a piece of it and to hit it to center. I did what I could based on the circumstances."
Strasburg struck out eight and walked one. He had not allowed more than two runs in each of his past four starts.
Nationals rookie Bryce Harper went 0 for 4 with three strikeouts.
Josh Roenicke (3-0) followed Francis with two scoreless innings. Matt Belisle worked the eighth and Rafael Betancourt finished for his 12th save.
"It is a good win, but only one win," Helton said. "We need to get a few more of these to get our season going."
Betancourt allowed consecutive one-out singles, bringing up pinch-hitter Roger Bernadina . He hit a hard liner to right field but just a few steps from Cuddyer. Betancourt then got Danny Espinosa to bounce out to second to end the game.
Jesus Flores had three hits and scored twice for NL East-leading Washington, which lost for the seventh time in 10 games.
"We're facing pitchers that everybody jumps all over and they look like Sandy Koufax out there," manager Davey Johnson said. "We've just got to change our approach, get a little smarter."
NOTES: The temperature of 100 degrees was the warmest ever for the start of a game at Coors Field, where the Rockies played their 1,406th regular-season contest. ... Rockies RHP Juan Nicasio (left knee strain) will face hitters in a simulated game Tuesday. He last pitched for the Rockies on June 2. ... The Rockies optioned struggling starter Alex White to Triple-A Colorado Springs and recalled reliever Zach Putnam . ... The Nationals placed outfielder Xavier Nady (right wrist soreness) on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to Sunday and activated infielder-outfielder Mark DeRosa , who had been on the disabled list for 50 games with a left oblique strain. ... The Nationals released reliever Brad Lidge , who was designated for assignment June 17. ... Christian Friedrich (4-4) will start Tuesday for the Rockies against Gio Gonzalez (9-3).