Rockies to face Jason Jennings

HOUSTON (AP) - After working their way into thick of the highly competitive NL West, the Colorado Rockies' season is quickly slipping away.

The Rockies look to avoid losing nine straight games for the first time in more than two years when they continue their four-game series against the Houston Astros on Saturday night.

Colorado (38-42) won 20 of 27 games from May 22-June 21 to move a season-high four games over .500 and 3 1/2 games out of first place in the NL West, but nothing has gone right since.

The Rockies have fallen eight games behind first-place San Diego as a result of their skid, and they are trying to avoid losing nine straight games since dropping 10 in a row April 24-May 7, 2005.

"It's losing the games that's bothering us," Colorado manager Clint Hurdle said after Friday's 9-8 defeat. "You can't put your finger on any one thing. It comes down to execution across the board. We just need to keep clawing and working like we have been before."

On Friday, Houston's Mark Loretta hit a two-run homer with two outs in the ninth off Rockies closer Brian Fuentes to lift the Astros. This came one night after Carlos Lee hit a grand slam in the bottom of the 11th off Fuentes to give Houston an 8-5 victory Thursday.

It's the first time in franchise history the Astros have won back-to-back games on game-ending homers.

"There's such a long way to go," Lance Berkman said. "We can't get too giddy about two wins."

Berkman homered in his third straight game on Friday, and has five home runs in his last seven.

Lee has three homers and eight RBIs in his last six games, and is 3-for-5 with a homer and a double lifetime against Saturday's starting pitcher Jeff Francis (7-5, 3.80 ERA), who tries to bounce back from his worst start in two months.

Francis yielded six runs and 10 hits in just five innings of a 10-9 loss to the Chicago Cubs on Monday, but did not factor in the decision. It was the most runs the left-hander has allowed since giving up six to the Padres on April 21.

Despite his poor performance his last time out, Francis is still 6-1 with a 2.51 ERA in his last 10 starts after opening the season 1-4 with a 6.19 ERA in his fist six.

In his only career start against the Astros, Francis allowed three runs and six hits in seven innings of a 3-0 loss on May 14 of last season.

Colorado third baseman Garrett Atkins hit two home runs on Saturday, and is batting .310 with seven homers and 19 RBIs in his last 15 games, after hitting .234 with four homers and 24 RBIs in his first 61 of the year.

Houston's Jason Jennings (1-2, 3.66) makes his first start against his former team when he takes the hill on Saturday.

Jennings, the Rockies' top pick in 1999, compiled a 58-56 record in six seasons with Colorado before being traded in a five-player deal to Houston last December.

Jennings has got off to a rough start with his new team, as he was out from April 9-May 28 because of tendonitis in his right elbow and did not record his first win of the season until June 19.

On Monday, the right-hander gave up three runs and five hits in seven innings while throwing a season-high 111 pitches in a 6-1 loss to Milwaukee.

"We need him to step up and be a big No. 2 for us, and he pitched like it," Astros manager Phil Garner said.

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