WASHINGTON -- A smoothly pitched game disintegrated in a pool of errors and strikeouts as the Rockies fell to the Nationals, 4-1, at Nationals Park, where temperatures topped 100 degrees on Saturday afternoon.Left-hander Jeff Francis had his sixth straight strong start before leaving a 1-1 tie in the sixth with no outs and runners at first and third, but two key errors were part of a three-run inning that sank the Rockies. The Rockies managed six hits -- three by Dexter Fowler -- and struck out 12 times, six against Nationals All-Star left-hander Gio Gonzalez, who tied Livan Hernandez's club record for wins at the break while improving to 12-3. "Today wasn't so much about pitching as it was about our lack of offense and the fact we threw the ball around a bit in the sixth inning," Rockies manager Jim Tracy said. "When you get six hits in a game and one guy gets three of them, there's not a lot of offensive opportunity." Neither starter seemed bothered badly by the heat. Francis is pitching in the Rockies' four-starter system, and his 77 pitches were two beyond the usual limit guideline the Rockies have set. Francis gave up a solo homer to Ian Desmond in the second inning and saw the two runners he left on base to start the sixth end up scoring in a sloppy inning, and was charged with three earned runs on six hits, five strikeouts and one walk. He left after yielding a well-hit Danny Espinosa double and a bloop Bryce Harper single to open the sixth for the National League East-leading Nationals. "Tough game to lose," Francis said. "We make a few mistakes one inning, and they take advantage." Saturday was the Rockies' first loss in a Francis start since June 9, which was his first. He began the year in Triple-A with the Reds, but he requested his release and joined the Rockies, for whom he pitched 2004-10. In his last six starts, Francis has posted a 3.45 ERA with 18 strikeouts and six walks. "Throwing my fastball glove side -- inside to right-handers -- I think I'm more consistent getting the ball where I need to, and that's opened up the outside part of the plate," Francis said. "And I'm able to move my curveball around." In addition to Francis, the Rockies have had two straight strong starts from rookie lefty Drew Pomeranz, and Sunday afternoon starter Jeremy Guthrie is coming off six competitive innings in a loss at St. Louis. If those four and rookie lefty Christian Friedrich, who has been up and down, can find consistent quality after the break, the Rockies could end up with greater information as they analyze their four-man starter system. "Jeff pitched a great game, but we didn't get enough runs for him," said Tyler Colvin, who went 0-for-3 with a walk to end his hitting streak at six games. "We'll keep battling." Gonzalez gave up a leadoff double to Michael Cuddyer in the fourth. Cuddyer later scored on Jordan Pacheco's sacrifice fly. Otherwise, Gonzalez kept the Rockies cold on a day when being cool otherwise was desirable. "You've got to learn how to stay in the cool a little bit," Gonzalez said. "I was telling the ump, put an ammonia towel over your head in between innings. Other than that, I tried to mentally break through that. I didn't want to think about the heat." After Francis left with runners at first and third, Washington's Ryan Zimmerman greeted reliever Josh Roenicke with an RBI single. With Michael Morse hitting, Roenicke bounced a pitch that rookie catcher Wilin Rosario blocked. Rosario retrieved the ball, pump-faked, then fired the ball into center field for an error. "That's exactly what it is, a young kid trying to do too much with a situation," Tracy said. Another run scored later in the inning on Roenicke's wild pickoff throw to first base. The Rockies finished with four errors.
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, and follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.