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Strasburg fans 10 to earn ninth win of year

When the Nationals open a four-game series with the Rockies on Monday at Coors Field, they will be counting on Stephen Strasburg to do what a staff ace is supposed to do -- keep them out of a losing streak.

The Rockies, meanwhile, will be hoping that Jeff Francis, their former ace, can again somehow conjure up some old magic.

The Nationals still are in first place in the National League East, but they are smarting from a tough 2-1 loss to the Orioles in Sunday's Interleague finale.

They've lost six of their last 10 games, but Strasburg, their sensational 23-year-old right-hander, has been the equivalent of a losing streak antidote lately.

He has won his last six starts and is coming off a dominant performance in his last outing Wednesday, when he limited the Rays to five hits and two runs while striking out 10 in a 3-2 Nationals victory.

For the season, Strasburg is 9-1 with a 2.46 ERA.

Nationals manager Davey Johnson was beaming after his young ace's latest effort.

"He seemed to get stronger as the game went on," Johnson said. "Great seven innings. He's a true No. 1, and he's still learning. I think the best is yet to come with him."

Strasburg was happy, too.

"I think I was able to keep pretty good composure out there and keep things simple," Strasburg said after the win over the Rays. "That's what enabled me to go out there and pitch well."

Francis, 31, was 17-9 when the Rockies won the National League championship and made it to the World Series in 2007 against the Red Sox.

Little has gone right for him since then.

After going 4-10 in 2008, he missed the 2009 season after having surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder.

The next season, Francis was 4-6 with a 5.00 ERA in 20 games, and the Rockies didn't pick up the option on his contract for the next season.

Francis pitched for the Kansas City Royals in 2011, going 6-16 with a 4.82 ERA.

This season, Francis pitched for the Reds' Triple-A Louisville team before asking for and getting his release in order to sign with the Rockies.

Francis was signed because the Rockies are hurting for starting pitching due to injuries to Jorge De La Rosa and Juan Nicasio and the ineffectiveness of Drew Pomeranz.

Francis' first outing in his second go-round with the Rockies was pretty much a disaster, as he allowed eight runs on 10 hits in 3 1/3 innings against the Angels on June 9, but things have improved some since then.

He gave up eight hits and four earned runs in five innings against Detroit on June 15 and six hits and one earned run against the Phillies on Thursday.

Francis did not get a decision in either of those games, but he effectively displayed how manager Jim Tracy's new four-man rotation is supposed to work.

Limited to roughly 75 pitches per outing, the starter has to be efficient.

"We're gonna buy into it," Francis said of the four-man rotation. "We're only doing this to help ourselves. We don't care if it's getting blown up [in the media] or not. If there's a way that we can make it work, then we're gonna do it."

Nationals: Zimmerman gets cortisone shot, then two hits
Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who has been bothered by a sore shoulder that has already cost him one stint on the disabled list, was 2-for-4 Sunday against the Orioles, raising his batting average to .223. He had a cortisone shot in the shoulder prior to the game.

It was Zimmerman's first multihit game since June 8.

Rockies: Back for a homestead
The Rockies will be back home after a nine-game, 10-day road trip concluded Sunday evening in Arlington with a 4-2 loss against the Rangers.

They went 3-6 on the trip and had a 2-13 record in Interleague Play.

Worth noting
Johnson is nearing a one-year anniversary as manager of the Nationals after Jim Riggleman resigned on June 23 last year and was replaced by John McLaren on an interim basis for three games.

Johnson, who had not managed in 11 years, guided the team to a 40-43 record the remainder of last season and has the Nationals in first place in the NL East with a 41-29 record this season.

"It feels like about a month or so," Johnson said when asked how long it feels like since he's been back as a manager. "When you're back in baseball, it doesn't leave you." Comments