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Coming of ace story: Francis leads Rox

Coming of ace story: Francis leads Rox

DENVER -- It's getting harder for Rockies left-hander Jeff Francis to fly beneath the radar, even if he tries.

Ask him about being the leader of the pitching staff and he'll note that he considers himself and right-hander Aaron Cook co-leaders. But Cook's leadership is mitigated by an oblique injury that has kept him off the mound since Aug. 10.

Talk about his 17 wins, which tied him with Kevin Ritz (1996) and Pedro Astacio (1998) for the club record in a season, and he'll credit run support. However, Francis, buoyed by 5.56 runs per nine innings from his club, ranks just 14th in the National League in that category. Just three times in the Rockies' 15-year history has the club leader in wins ranked lower than 14th in the league in run support.

Regardless of how many factors are considered, it boils down to the fact that Francis (17-9, 4.22 ERA), who is in line to start Game 1 of the National League Division Series against the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park, has become a heavyweight among NL starters.

But try making him say that.

"I'm really proud, and it's not just me," Francis said. "It's the way the team rallied behind me, the way they hit the ball, the way they played defense. I don't do anything without them behind me. That means a lot to me. They play for me -- as well as me for them -- when I'm out there."

Francis has excelled without the benefit of eye-popping fastball velocity. "As soon as I signed my pro contract, I stopped caring," said Francis, the Rockies' top Draft pick in 2002 out of the University of British Columbia. In fact, his best fastball has been missing during many of his strong performances this season.

Francis has displayed the most consistent changeup of his career, and his breaking pitches have been great at times, too. It's not one pitch as much as it's Francis' ability to understand what's working for him, and what's frustrating the opposing hitters.

"You try to be aware of as much as you can," Francis said. "You're not going to know what the hitter is doing by his reaction, but you can pick up things here and there.

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"It's more important to be aware of what you have going that day -- whether it's a changeup or a curveball or a fastball in a certain location. You try to be aware of those things and use them when you need to make an out. That's the ongoing learning process."

To accelerate the learning process, Francis writes down his reflections on his mechanics and strategy after each start.

"I think calling it a diary is so teenage -- it's more of a log or a journal," he said with a smile.

With the maturity he has shown this season, he can call it what he wants.

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

{"content":["division_series" ] }
{"content":["division_series" ] }