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Francis looks good as Rockies beat Nationals

4:53 PM, May 16, 2010   |    comments
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That's why the Colorado Rockies manager became pretty choked up watching left-hander Jeff Francis work on the mound Sunday in a 2-1 win over the Washington Nationals.

Francis hadn't pitched in a major league game since September 12, 2008, as arm issues kept him sidelined. He threw seven sharp innings against the Nationals, finding his form after giving up a run in the first and pitching like the ace he once was for the Rockies.

After his final inning, Francis left to a standing ovation.

That only pulled on Tracy's heartstrings even more.

"I don't think there was anybody in this organization that wasn't rooting for this guy today," Tracy said. "It was somewhat emotional for me, to see this kid go out there and do what he did. ... He pitched seven terrific innings."

Francis was the staff ace during Colorado's run to the World Series in 2007, tying a franchise record with 17 wins.

Then arm trouble began to plague him. He missed the 2009 season after undergoing shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum, then started this season on the disabled list after straining the area around his left armpit in his last appearance of spring training.

He was activated from the DL before the game Sunday, and the Rockies optioned right-handed reliever Matt Daley to Triple-A Colorado Springs to make room for him.

Francis was on a strict pitch count. Tracy said he wouldn't be allowed to go over 100.

Yet Francis finished at 106 as Tracy allowed him to wiggle out of a two-on, no-out jam in the seventh. He struck out Scott Olsen and Nyjer Morgan and then got Ian Desmond to pop out.

On his way to the dugout, the fans cheered.

Inside the dugout, his teammates high-fived him.

"It was fun," Francis said humbly.

Just like that, Colorado's beleaguered pitching staff is beginning to get healthy again. Jason Hammel had a solid outing on Saturday and then Francis came through Sunday.

Ubaldo Jimenez, one of the best pitchers in baseball, suddenly has some help.

"This makes us feel pretty good about what we were able to do in all their absences," Tracy said. "We didn't let it bother us, knowing we had to weather the storm until we got some of them back."

Brad Hawpe hit a go-ahead sacrifice fly in the eighth, helping the Rockies take three of four from the Nationals.

The inning was set up when pinch-hitter Seth Smith drew a walk off reliever Tyler Clippard (7-2), who entered the game tied for the major league lead in wins. Carlos Gonzalez followed with a single and then Dexter Fowler bunted them over.

Hawpe lifted the ball to left to bring home Smith.

Textbook late-inning baseball.

"They did their thing, they played small ball on us and got it done," Clippard said.

The Rockies also scored their first run of the game on a sacrifice fly, when Miguel Olivo lifted a fly to left in the second.

Olsen fared much better this time around against Colorado, allowing just five hits and one run in 6 2-3 innings. He was hit hard by the Rockies on April 20 as they scored six runs off him in two innings.

Since that outing, though, Olsen has allowed two runs or less in five straight starts. But three have resulted in no-decisions.

"He and Francis, two left-handers who weren't overpowering hitters but they were confusing hitters, changing speeds and throwing strikes. It was a great pitching performance," Nationals manager Jim Riggleman said.

Not to mention a good story with Francis' comeback after such a long layoff.

"It was just me going out there trying to be me," Francis said. "This is a good place to play baseball."

NOTES: The Nationals scored their run on a sacrifice fly in the first, Morgan scoring on Cristian Guzman's fly to center. ... Rockies reliever Matt Belisle (1-0) pitched the eighth for the win and Manuel Corpas retired the side in the ninth for his second save. ... With Nationals 1B Adam Dunn coming down with flulike symptoms, utility player Mike Morse, who was just reinstated off the DL, filled in at first base Sunday. He had two singles.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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