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STL@COL: Flande strikes out Craig for first career K

The Rockies defeated the Nationals, 7-6, on June 23, 2013, to improve their record to 39-38. That Sunday afternoon was the last day they spent above .500 that year, finishing 35-50 to place last in the National League West at 74-88.

As the Rockies face the Nationals for the first time in 2014, they sit 10 games back in the NL West, in third place.

"We're in a tough stretch, no doubt about it, but the resolve hasn't wavered at all," Rockies manager Walt Weiss said Wednesday following the Major League debut of Yohan Flande, who will take the hill for Colorado against the Nats on Monday night. "None of it is coming easy."

After waiting out 10 years in the Minors to get his first chance in the Major Leagues, Flande had to wait just five games for his next chance, in Washington on Monday. Flande allowed four runs on six hits to the Cardinals over five innings in an eventual Rockies loss. Walt Weiss was happy with what he saw from Flande, the 12th starting pitcher Colorado has used in this injury-riddled season.

"He threw strikes, and he's able to sink the ball. Did a really nice job with his debut," Weiss said. "I think he's got some deception where he sinks the ball and guys don't see it real well. He did a real good job of sinking the ball to the bottom of the zone."

Meanwhile, the Nationals, who will have Jordan Zimmermann toe the rubber, have rebounded significantly since their own doldrums last season. Washington is 43-38 after a doubleheader sweep of the Cubs and is half a game behind first-place Atlanta in the NL East, and they now get star outfielder Bryce Harper back after a lengthy rehab from a thumb injury. Harper was activated from the disabled list on Monday.

Through 81 games last season, the Nationals trailed the Braves by 6 1/2 games in the standings and were barely above .500, with a 41-40 record. Even more impressive, Harper, Wilson Ramos and Ryan Zimmerman have all missed significant time this year.

Zimmerman, Ramos and now Harper have returned, giving Washington confidence that it will only get stronger in the race to reclaim the division that it won with a Major League-best 98 wins in 2012.

"For me, certainly not where we'd like to be and also not where we could be given all that's gone on," Nationals manager Matt Williams said. "I think we've got a group of guys that continue to battle hard every day, that use nothing as an excuse and play."

Nationals: Harper could return today
Harper (left thumb surgery) played a full nine innings for the first time on his rehab assignment with Double-A Harrisburg on Friday. He picked up a single, two walks, two RBIs and two steals in three attempts while manning center field without issue. Harper had the option of taking Saturday off, but he elected to DH instead, and he went 4-for-5 with three home runs and five RBIs.

Williams said the most important thing for Harper on his rehab was that he played back-to-back nine-inning games. Harper checked off all the boxes on his rehab, leading to his return to the Nationals.

"I feel good about it. We'll have to see how he comes out of it, though," Williams said. "I think he's progressing really well."

Rockies: Weiss looking for early leads
Rockies manager Walt Weiss said Sunday that he would like to see the Rockies' lineup score more runs early in games. The Rockies led for a total of one inning in the first three games of the Milwaukee series.

"It always helps to play out in front," Weiss said. "It allows you to do some things offensively, take some chances maybe that the other guys may not take. It's always tough to play from behind. With a young staff, it becomes even more magnified. It'd be nice to play out in front and let those guys pitch with a lead."

That hope came to fruition in the series finale with the Brewers on Sunday when the Rockies scored three first-inning runs on their way to ending a losing streak at four games with a 10-4 win.

Worth noting
• The Nationals are 24-11 when Denard Span reaches base at least twice. He was 2-for-3 in Game 1 against the Cubs on Saturday. Span also has 15 extra-base hits (13 doubles, two triples) in June, setting a new single-month career high.

• Zimmermann has a 1.18 ERA and 0.74 WHIP with 36 strikeouts to just five walks in five starts covering 38 innings this month.

• Following the three-game series with the Nationals, the Rockies will return home for a 10-game homestand leading into the All-Star break.

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