WASHINGTON -- Being a Major League closer can be exciting, unless close games with tight leads are few and far between. Lately, the latter has forced Rockies left-hander Rex Brothers to be sharp.
Brothers became the closer when Rafael Betancourt's right groin issues affected him in late May. The injury forced Betancourt to the 15-day disabled list at the start of this month. Brothers is 3-for-4 in save opportunities in his last 11 games. But since throwing 25 pitches June 8 while finishing the Rockies' 4-2 loss to the Padres, Brothers has appeared in three games for a total of 19 pitches.
Nonetheless, Brothers still feels sharp. Going into Thursday night's game against the Nationals, Brothers had thrown 29 straight scoreless outings covering 26 2/3 innings.
"More than anything, it's taking more pride in the throwing program and the small side sessions, maybe five, eight pitches after the throwing program, to make sure I stay on top of the fundamentals, my cues," Brothers said. "All year, I've made a conscious effort to my throwing program and not letting myself form any bad habits."
Brothers said Betancourt and right-hander Matt Belisle taught him how to stay focused, even when the calls to the bullpen are not as frequent as at other times of the season.
Brothers has been a bright spot in a bullpen that has been stressed by the injuries of Betancourt and right-hander Edgmer Escalona (right elbow inflammation). Through May 21, when Betancourt was removed from a game against the D-backs after just two pitches, the Rockies were 25-21, and the bullpen was 6-6 with a 2.91 ERA. From then until Wednesday night, the Rockies were 12-15, and the bullpen was 5-8 with a 4.37 ERA.
But Betancourt hopes to return next Thursday or Friday. Betancourt will face hitters Friday afternoon at Nationals Park. Escalona, who is due back in five days, threw a smooth 25-pitch bullpen session Thursday.
Weiss sees role for Francis despite demotion
WASHINGTON -- Rockies manager Walt Weiss said he believed veteran left-hander Jeff Francis could still return to be a factor in the team's season.
Nevertheless, the Rockies announced Thursday that Francis had accepted an option to Triple-A Colorado Springs. The Rockies needed to make room on the active roster for Thursday night's starting pitcher, Roy Oswalt. To clear the required spot on the 40-man Major League roster, the Rockies outrighted right-hander Chris Volstad to Colorado Springs. Volstad had been optioned there.
"I'm glad Jeff is still with us," Weiss said. "He's meant so much to this organization. At some point, Jeff's going to be able to help us again."
Francis was 2-5 with a 6.58 ERA in 11 starts with the Rockies.
Fowler hopes to avoid DL amid nagging pain
WASHINGTON -- Rockies center fielder Dexter Fowler was discouraged by the pain he felt in his right ring finger when he attempted to bat in the cage before Thursday night's game against the Nationals.
Fowler was hit on the finger while trying to bunt during a game last Thursday and has played sporadically since. Monday night against Blue Jays right-handed pitcher Josh Johnson, the switch-hitting Fowler had problems hanging onto the bat with his right hand. That presents an issue because, batting from the left, the right hand is at the bottom of the bat and cannot be removed during a swing.
Fowler said he was improving daily but not enough to return to Thursday's starting lineup, although he remained available for limited pinch-running situations and possibly some defense.
He said he hoped to avoid a trip to the 15-day disabled list. However, if Fowler is out much longer, the Rockies run the risk of over-using left fielder Carlos Gonzalez, who is playing through left foot and left knee pain, and right fielder Michael Cuddyer, whose ribs that he bruised earlier in the year have come much closer to healing.
"I want to play," Fowler said. "I'm frustrated over the fact that it still hurts, but at the same time I don't want it to get worse. It's still sore. I could wear the soreness, but at the same time that's their biggest fear, that it will go the other way. It's getting better, but I don't want to regress."
An X-ray on the day the injury occurred did not reveal a fracture, and another taken Thursday confirmed that none had developed.
Fowler is hitting .298 with 10 home runs, 26 RBIs, 12 doubles and two triples.
• Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki reported feeling good after a day of rehab exercises Thursday. Tulowitzki, out with a broken rib on the right side, might be able to perform light baseball activity, like swinging the bat, on Monday.
Tulowitzki sustained the injury last Thursday, and he is expected to miss four to six weeks.
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, and follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.