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Francis looking strong in spring, serving as mentor

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies lefty Jeff Francis' stats are close to spotless through his first three Cactus League outings (two starts). He has given up no runs or walks and has almost as many strikeouts (five) as opponents have hits (six).

But Francis, who will start against the Dodgers on Sunday afternoon at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, doesn't exactly see perfection.

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"I look more at execution," Francis said. "The results might've been good so far, but there are a few pitches I've gotten away with. Guys have hit a few balls in the air and they've ended up in mitts. I evaluate myself more on the amount I hit the target. There's a lot of improvement I can make there."

This detailed, even-keeled approach to his job is one of the reasons the Rockies look to Francis, 32, as a leader to the many starters vying for jobs who are in the beginning stages of their big league careers. Francis, who was the Rockies' ace during their run to the World Series in 2007, before shoulder injuries put him out of action for part of 2008, all of 2009 and some of 2010, said the role has been an adjustment. Francis pitched for the Royals in 2011 and was in the Minors with the Reds when the Rockies signed him in June to bolster a young and unprepared staff.

"I'm comfortable with it, for sure," Francis said. "It was new to me last year. I'm still learning how to be in that role, but I definitely don't walk around like I know what to do. I learn from everybody, just like they might learn from me. I have a lot of experience, but there are things I'm trying to get better at, things I'm trying to learn."

Francis said his changeup against left-handed hitters and his fastball command need work. Even before the shoulder issues, Francis relied on location more than velocity. He doesn't throw as hard as he used to, so deception and location are at an even higher premium.

"It's a pursuit of consistency," he said. "There are a lot of things that I do well. It's just a matter of executing them consistently, from game to game. It's the ability to spot up my fastball and do that every time. If for some reason I struggle, I'm finding ways to get people out."

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.

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