Francis' gem puts end to losing skid
Lefty tosses seven shutout innings, snaps eight-game slide
HOUSTON -- Rockies left-hander Jeff Francis lacked his best fastball Saturday night, which meant the Astros were in trouble.
Francis made do with what he had for seven innings, giving up three hits, as the Rockies ended their losing streak at eight games with a 5-0 win in front of 43,071 at Minute Maid Park.
It was reminiscent of the club's only other shutout this season, when Francis (8-5) sloshed through seven innings relying on his changeup in a 2-0 road victory over the Diamondbacks on May 23.
"Arm-side command of my fastball wasn't there -- that's what I go to," said Francis, winner of seven of his last eight decisions. "Fortunately, I had a good curveball going. I was able to get some strikes on the outer half to righties. I think with those two things, I kept them off-balance."
The victory left the Rockies three games below .500 at the midpoint of the 162-game schedule. To get there, the Rockies were awful early, had a 20-7 stretch, then endured the losing skid.
Fastball, curve, change, whatever; the Rockies needed the performance on the night they announced that two-time All-Star closer Brian Fuentes is being moved to earlier innings after blowing four saves during the streak.
"We've got a lot of confidence in Jeff," Rockies manager Clint Hurdle said. "He ran a lot of deep counts and ran a high pitch count, but, man, he got outs."
Francis struck out four and worked around four walks while putting the Rockies in position to split the four-game series if they win Sunday afternoon.
Reliever LaTroy Hawkins, who gave up two home runs in Thursday night's loss to the Astros, pitched a one-hit eighth and Jeremy Affeldt threw a spotless ninth. Not that Astros manager Phil Garner was impressed.
"I don't think that it was shutout quality," Garner said. "We just didn't hit the ball. I didn't think [Francis] was overpowering with the fastball. I didn't think his breaking ball was that good."
Nonetheless, the pitching was good enough to reward the offense. The Rockies have averaged 5.7 runs per game during this road trip, and that includes last Sunday when the Blue Jays' Dustin McGowan held them to one ninth-inning hit in a 5-0 decision.
Saturday, Garrett Atkins knocked two RBIs and Matt Holliday added his team-leading 62nd RBI.
Ryan Spilborghs went 2-for-5 and accomplished his fourth RBI of the series on an infield single for a 3-0 lead in the fifth against former Rockie Jason Jennings (1-3).
Kazuo Matsui hustled a leadoff double against Matt Albers to touch off a two-run eighth, which kept the Rockies out of a save situation.
"Even when we had the near-no-hitter, we went out there the next day and still believed we were a good offensive ballclub," said Atkins, who knocked 25 of his 45 total RBIs in June. "We've got a lot of good hitters."
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.