DENVER -- The prospect of pitching at Coors Field can be daunting.
At an elevation of 5,280 feet, the place is not, as manager Matt Williams noted Monday, a "sea-worthy" stadium. Here, a pitch left up can quickly become a ball headed out.
Just ask Ian Desmond.
The Washington shortstop tied a career high with five hits, including a two-run home run into the left-field seats that sparked a four-run fourth inning and helped the Nationals beat the Rockies, 7-2, in the opener of a three-game series in front of 33,082.
The victory, coupled with the Braves' 3-1 loss to the Marlins in extra innings, put the Nationals alone in first place in the National League East, one game ahead of Atlanta. A venue that has long proven friendly to hitters has been especially so for Desmond, who improved his career average at Coors Field to .438 (28-for-64) with three home runs and 14 RBIs.
Perhaps it's Desmond's self-professed motto -- "Swing hard in case you hit" -- that helped him extend his hitting streak to eight games while clubbing his 17th home run of the season. But Nationals manager Matt Williams believes it's Desmond's plate discipline that has led to the shortstop's hot streak.
"I just thought he stayed middle of the diamond and didn't overswing," Williams said. "He hit a couple of balls back through the middle, one the other way. When he's swinging it and going good, that's what you'll see."
Raking at Coors Field has become old hat for Desmond, but it was the performance of a pair of first-timers on the mound that helped the Nationals win for the third straight game and for the fifth time in their last six.
Doug Fister, who made his first start at Colorado's ballpark after long avoiding it as an American League pitcher, allowed two runs in 5 2/3 innings to earn his ninth win of the season.
"With some of the conditions, obviously, you know you have to keep the ball down," Fister said. "That's something we focused on a lot tonight."
Added Rockies manager Walt Weiss: "He's got good command and pitches to the bottom of the zone and the edge of the plate. He's had a good year."
Fister's sinking fastball kept hitters at bay until the sixth, when the Rockies cut a 4-0 deficit in half on base hits by Nolan Arenado and Ben Paulsen.
Fister said he twisted his ankle while avoiding a hard-hit ground ball up the middle by Carlos Gonzalez earlier in the sixth inning, but he expects to be fine.
It was rookie reliever Aaron Barrett who made sure the Nationals didn't feel the hurt of the Rockies' threat. Fister was lifted with the bases loaded, and Barrett struck out pinch-hitter Brandon Barnes with a slider in the dirt to preserve a 4-2 lead.
"In my eyes, that was the turning point of the game," Desmond said. "He did a great job. Doug did a great job, too. He battled like he does every time."
The Nationals added two insurance runs in the seventh. Wilson Ramos drove in Ryan Zimmerman, who led off with a walk. Then Desmond, who led off with a single, scored from third on a wild pitch from reliever Tommy Kahnle.
It was the second time in the game the Nationals scored on a wayward throw from a Rockies pitcher. In the fourth, when Washington batted around, an errant pickoff attempt by Rockies starter Franklin Morales (5-5) allowed Danny Espinosa to stroll home for a 4-0 lead.
Espinosa went 2-for-4 with a double and a triple and was one of four Nationals with at least two hits. For Espinosa, it was his first hit since June 22, snapping an 0-for-27 skid.
"I think he was a little more calm," said Williams, who was particularly pleased with Espinosa's ninth-inning triple to right-field that capped the scoring for the Nationals. "I know he felt good about that one."
Nick Kosmider is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.