DENVER (AP) — Early on, Stephen Strasburg didn't have his best stuff and yet the powerful right-hander tried to bear down to keep his team close.
Almost paid off, too.
The Washington Nationals loaded the bases in the ninth before falling 6-4 to Jorge De La Rosa and the Colorado Rockies on Wednesday.
Strasburg (7-8) settled in after a shaky start, giving up four runs — three of which were in the first — and nine hits over 5 1-3 innings.
"Giving up three runs early, I could've easily shut it down," Strasburg said. "I didn't want to do that. I wanted to keep it as close as possible. Give the guys a chance to come back — anything can happen here."
And almost did.
Closer LaTroy Hawkins got the first two outs in the ninth, before allowing RBI singles to Jayson Werth and Anthony Rendon to make it a 6-4 game. With the bases loaded, Hawkins struck out Ian Desmond to end the rally.
"You have to tip your cap sometimes. He did a good job," Desmond said. "He made some pitches on me.
"We did a good job battling back right there. We kept on grinding away. I'll take us in that situation a lot of times."
Denard Span had four hits for the Nationals, who finished the season series 5-1 against Colorado. He was one of the few to have success against De La Rosa, who gave the Rockies a badly needed boost as they snapped a seven-game skid.
"Jorge, another great outing. He did it again," manager Walt Weiss said. "We're scuffling like crazy and he takes the ball and gives us a great performance and wins the game."
The Rockies tried a little bit of everything to break out of their funk. They wore their socks high and even engaged in a pregame staring contest.
Turns out, the best cure for their slump was simply the left arm of De La Rosa.
De La Rosa (11-6) struck out a season-high 11 as he pitched efficiently into the eighth inning. He kept the Nationals guessing by effectively mixing in a changeup with his 89-mph cutter.
"All my pitches were working really good today," said De La Rosa, who allowed two runs — one earned — before being lifted for a reliever with one out in the eighth. "My command of all my pitches was really good today."
The Rockies decided as a team to wear their socks high, just to try something new. Even Weiss followed the trend.
This helped ease the tension, too: Prior to the first pitch, Rockies outfielder Brandon Barnes and Nationals reliever Aaron Barrett engaged in quite a stare-down, with both players standing near the dugout holding their hats over their chest to see who would blink first.
After several minutes, Barnes finally gestured toward Barrett that they settle it with a game of rock-paper-scissor. Right after De La Rosa's warmup pitches, home plate umpire Paul Emmel told Barnes go into the dugout, with Barrett throwing his hands up in triumph.
"We'll do any stare-down to win games, for sure," joked Nolan Arenado.
Once again, De La Rosa mastered a park that typically isn't friendly to pitchers. He's 42-14 lifetime at Coors Field.
"This is the perfect park for me," he said.
Usually, it's the hitters saying that.
De La Rosa had his pitches dancing all day. He struck out Bryce Harper three times.
The Nationals were just 1 of 14 with runners in scoring position off De La Rosa.
"He knows how to pitch here," Nationals manager Matt Williams said. "He's got a surprising fast ball when he needs it, but he relies on his changeup a lot. That's a great strategy here.
"He's a good pitcher. He pitches well."
The Nationals were without infielder Ryan Zimmerman, who went on the 15-day disabled list Wednesday with a strained right hamstring.
"It's a pretty substantial strain of the hamstring," Williams said. "You never know how it's going to react, so we'll just take it day by day. It's going to be a couple of weeks at least. We'll see where he is at the end of that and go from there. He pulled it good."
NOTES: Werth wasn't in the starting lineup because of a tender right knee. ... The Nationals are off Thursday before opening a three-game series in Cincinnati.