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Gonzalez HRs for 3rd straight game to lead Rockies

Colorado Rockies' Brad Hawpe rounds second base after hitting a solo home run to center field.
Colorado Rockies' Brad Hawpe rounds second base after hitting a solo home run to center field.
Haraz N. Ghanbari, Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Colorado Rockies manager Jim Tracy decided to give Carlos Gonzalez a shot at hitting leadoff.

That worked out pretty well. Then again, pretty much everything Gonzalez does lately is going right.

Moved up in the batting order Tuesday night, Gonzalez homered for the third consecutive game to break a tie and back Ubaldo Jimenez's latest strong start, helping Colorado beat the Washington Nationals 4-3.

"Like I tell everybody: It doesn't matter where you're hitting," said Gonzalez, part of the offseason trade that sent Matt Holliday to Oakland and closer Huston Street to Colorado. "I take every pitch very important, because our team is in the race."

That it is: Colorado leads the NL wild-card standings, and Gonzalez is playing a key role after struggling early this season. Batting only .188 as of July 6, Gonzalez is now at .282. He has five homers and nine RBIs in his last seven games.

Gonzalez, who had been batting second, greeted Sean Burnett (2-3) by driving the lefty reliever's first pitch of the night into the Nationals' bullpen in right field to put Colorado ahead 3-2. On a windy night, the ball cut through the air on a straight line.

Burnett said he was hoping to sneak a first-pitch strike past Gonzalez with a breaking ball.

He also acknowledged he should have known better. Burnett is, after all, familiar with the outfielder: They were teammates in winter ball in Venezuela a couple of years ago.

"He's a very talented kid. He's got a lot of tools," Burnett said. "He caught my eye. ... I knew he was going to be pretty good."

And everyone in the park knew Gonzalez's swing against Burnett produced a homer.

"Gonzalez's ball was hit so sharp," Nationals manager Jim Riggleman said, "it was going to defy the wind."

Tracy juggled the top of his lineup, moving Gonzalez up from No. 2 for only the second game this season, while Dexter Fowler dropped down a spot and hit second for the first time in 2009. After Tuesday's victory, Tracy figures he'll leave things as-is for a bit.

"I don't know if there's a guy hitting the ball much harder right now per at-bat than Carlos Gonzalez," the manager said. "It goes without saying we have one very special player on our hands."

The same words would apply to Jimenez (11-9), who is 5-0 with a 2.49 ERA over his last seven starts.

"His fastball is really good — probably the best in the game," said Nationals cleanup hitter Adam Dunn, 0 for 4 with three strikeouts. "He's got really good movement. He located pretty good against me. And he's got a really good changeup, curveball and slider."

Jimenez gave up two runs and seven hits in his eight innings. Both runs came in the second, on an RBI double down the first-base line by opposing starter Craig Stammen and a single to left by Nyjer Morgan.

"I was arguing with myself," Jimenez said. "I was yelling at myself, 'Just calm down! Relax!'"

He listened, apparently, because he was still in the game in the eighth inning, and still throwing the ball in the high 90s mph.

"He's got a great arm," Riggleman said. "I'll tell you — I don't know if we've seen anything like that all year."

By the eighth, though, Jimenez had topped 100 pitches, so he gave way to Street for the ninth. Street eventually earned his 30th save in 31 chances, although not before allowing three hits, including Cristian Guzman's RBI single.

But with runners at the corners, Street got Ryan Zimmerman to fly out, allowing the Rockies to continue their push for the postseason, and ending the last-place Nationals' three-game winning streak.

"We play hard. I don't think it matters if we're playing the Bad News Bears," Dunn said, "or if we're playing these guys that are in the playoff race."

NOTES: Brad Hawpe and Clint Barmes also homered for Colorado. ... Washington's first game since signing No. 1 draft pick Stephen Strasburg to a record $15.1 million contract drew a crowd of only 18,192 — about 5,000 lower than the team's average attendance this season. ... Rockies LHP Jeff Francis, out all season after shoulder surgery, threw a 30-pitch bullpen session.