GAME IN A NUTSHELL: With an opportunity to sweep the foundering Rockies and get their 9-game road off to a stellar start, the Nationals knew they'd need to compensate for the absences of Ryan Zimmerman (who was placed on the 15-day DL with a hamstring strain), Jayson Werth (given a day off to rest his knee) and Wilson Ramos (given a day off after catching a night game).
That depleted lineup wound up struggling to maintain its previous level of production, stymied by Colorado left-hander Jorge De La Rosa over 7 1/3 innings. The Nationals were forced to play catch-up all afternoon, though, after Stephen Strasburg served up three quick runs in the bottom of the first, setting the stage for another battle of an outing by the right-hander.
The Nationals attempted mount one final rally in the ninth, getting four straight 2-out hits off closer LaTroy Hawkins, but Ian Desmond struck out with the bases loaded and a chance to drive in the go-ahead run. So in the end, the Nats left Coors Field having captured another series — they've either won or split nine of their last 10 — while at worst maintaining a 1-game lead in the NL East over the Braves (who face the Marlins later this evening).
HITTING LOWLIGHT: The Nationals had a couple of chances to rally against De La Rosa when the game was still tight. Trailing 3-2 in the top of the sixth, Bryce Harper stepped to the plate with runners on the corners and one out. Harper, though, struck out for the third time in as many at-bats vs. De La Rosa. Danny Espinosa then grounded the very next pitch to shortstop to kill that rally. One inning later, now trailing 4-2, the Nationals had runners on first and second with nobody out. But Denard Span (who had been 3-for-3 on the afternoon) tried to sacrifice and wound up bunting too hard, letting the Rockies throw out Jose Lobaton at third base. Werth, getting a rare opportunity to pinch-hit, then struck out while Anthony Rendon followed with a grounder to short, killing that rally as well.
PITCHING LOWLIGHT: It has become routine for Strasburg: Give up several runs early, then battle to try to make something out of the start. And it happened again today. Handed a 1-0 lead before he ever took the mound, Strasburg immediately gave three runs right back on two doubles, a walk and two singles. Then he settled down and managed to keep the damage at those three runs into the sixth, pumping his fastball up to 98 mph to get one key double-play grounder out of Drew Stubbs. But then Strasburg couldn't finish on a high note. He walked No. 7 hitter Michael McKenry to lead off the sixth, then later allowed an infield single to De La Rosa, and out came Matt Williams asking for the ball. Strasburg's final line (four earned runs in 5 1/3 innings) wasn't particularly strong, and it leaves him with a 7-8 record and 3.67 ERA for the season. That ERA ranks 29th out of 50 qualifying NL starters.
KEY STAT: Kevin Frandsen's bunt single in the top of the seventh snapped an 0-for-22 slump by Nationals pinch-hitters.
UP NEXT: The Nationals get a day off before opening a 3-game series at Cincinnati on Friday at 7:10 p.m. It'll be Tanner Roark vs. Reds All-Star right-hander Alfredo Simon in the opener at Great American Ball Park.