Nationals-Rockies Preview

AP - Sports

Every time since May 20 that Stephen Strasburg has taken the ball, he's won a game for the NL East-leading Washington Nationals.

Colorado Rockies manager Jim Tracy hasn't had any starter win a game in three weeks.

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."

Francis will likely need to do a better job against Michael Morse and Ryan Zimmerman than Rockies pitchers did last season, although Colorado won four of seven meetings with Washington.

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.

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