DENVER -- The Washington Nationals' pitching staff is getting healthy, and with the way Ryan Zimmerman and Ian Desmond are hitting, the defending NL East champions are hitting their stride just as summer heats up.
Zimmerman homered, doubled and drove in three runs, Desmond got four hits and the Nationals beat the depleted Colorado Rockies 5-4 on Thursday.
Washington has been beset by injuries to its rotation, but with the return of starter Ross Detwiler on Thursday and Stephen Strasburg expected back Sunday, the Nationals feel confident heading into the last 97 games of the season.
They trail Atlanta by 5 1/2 games in the division.
"For us as a team right now, with the things that have gone on and the things that have happened, we just need to grind it out and stay where we're at and stay within striking distance," Zimmerman said. "And then hopefully once we get going or maybe this is the start of that, where we can have a good 20-game span. Then all of a sudden we're right back in it."
The immediate future isn't as rosy for the Rockies, who lost four players and a coach, as well as the rubber match of the three-game series.
Outfielders Carlos Gonzalez and Dexter Fowler were injured early and shortstop Troy Tulowitzki left with a rib injury in the eighth inning. Reliever Wilton Lopez and pitching coach Jim Wright were ejected in the seventh.
Tulowitzki's injury appears to be the most serious. He left Coors Field to have an MRI done on his ribs, which manager Walt Weiss said have been sore for "about a week." The Rockies hoped to get the results of the MRI later Thursday.
"Just hope the MRI doesn't show any damage and hopefully he'll be day to day also," Weiss said. "
Craig Stammen (4-2) threw two scoreless innings and Rafael Soriano got his 17th save after giving up an RBI single to pinch-hitter Todd Helton with two outs.
Zimmerman's RBI double off reliever Matt Belisle (4-3) in the eighth broke a tie, and he later scored on Desmond's infield single to make it 5-3.
Tulowitzki, who was injured trying to make a play on Desmond's single, was replaced by a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the eighth, straining an already short Rockies bench.
Gonzalez was hit near the ankle by a foul ball while on deck in the first inning and exited with a bruised left foot. The Rockies said X-rays were negative and listed the All-Star left fielder as day to day.
Fowler was hit on the right hand by a pitch from Detwiler after squaring to bunt in the third. A team trainer looked at Fowler, and the centre fielder stayed in for another inning. Weiss said X-rays on Fowler's hand were negative and he is also day to day.
"It was numb, I felt it swelling up," Fowler said. "Obviously I couldn't grip the bat so I couldn't hit. I just know it was hurting and swelling up. I don't think I had a chance to grip the bat."
Detwiler was activated from the 15-day DL and made his first start since May 15. He lasted five innings, giving up three runs on six hits and striking out two.
He was in line for the loss until the seventh, when things got heated between the umpiring crew and the Rockies. Desmond led off with a single and stole second. With two outs, Lopez was called for two balks, scoring Desmond to tie it at 3.
The first balk was called by home plate umpire James Hoye and second base ump Bob Davidson. Jim Reynolds at third base called the second one. Crew chief John Hirschbeck said both balks were because Lopez used a stop-start motion with the hands.
"Actually, he did it three times. They only called it twice," Washington manager Davey Johnson said. "He kept going toward his glove, and then he would stop. They called two out of three. But you can't be moving toward your glove and stop. It's an automatic balk."
Lopez shouted at Hirschbeck at first base as he left the field after the inning ended and was ejected. Wright was tossed by Reynolds when he was giving Reynolds "the crazy gesture from the dugout," Hirschbeck said.
"If you're going to call it once, you got to call it twice," Desmond said. "You got to keep on calling it. Consistency. They did a good job. That's what we expect."
The Rockies were in control before then. Tyler Colvin, who replaced Gonzalez, had an RBI single in the first and Michael Cuddyer drove in a run with a double in the fourth and later scored on a groundout to give the Rockies a 3-2 lead.
Zimmerman had given the Nationals a 2-1 lead with a two-run homer in the third, his seventh of the season, the only blemish in an otherwise strong start for Jeff Francis.
Francis entered Thursday with a tenuous hold on his spot in the Rockies' rotation. He had a shaky start against San Diego on Saturday in his first outing since coming off the 15-day DL because of a groin strain. He needed 93 pitches to get through four innings against the Padres, and with veteran Roy Oswalt pitching well in the minors, Francis' role with the Rockies was in question.
Francis made his case with a solid outing against the Nationals. He allowed two runs on five hits and struck out eight, his most since May 24, 2008.
"It's hard to be really happy when don't win the game," Francis said.
NOTES: Desmond extended his hitting streak to a career-high 15 games. ... Strasburg (strained lat muscle) threw a successful bullpen session Thursday and is on track to start Sunday's game at Cleveland. ... Cuddyer returned to the lineup after missing five games with a strained rib cage. ... To make room for Detwiler, the Nationals optioned RHP Erik Davis to Triple-A Syracuse.