WASHINGTON — As the Rockies teeter between a rushing need to rally and the ruin of irrelevance, no man better embodies that balancing act than pitcher Christian Friedrich.

His breaking ball is major-league. He looped a knockout rainbow at Nationals slugger Bryce Harper in the first inning Tuesday that could have struck out Tony Gwynn.

But Friedrich's aim is not ready for prime time. The two walks and a double he allowed before Harper whiffed gave Washington three runs on just one hit in the first inning.

Those were more runs than Washington would need in dismissing the Rockies with a 7-1 blowout victory at Nationals Park. It was Colorado's 13th loss in its past 15 games.

"Two walks to lead off a game is never a good start," Friedrich said.

The Rockies (36-48) are falling without a rip cord. After facing Washington ace Stephen Strasburg (3.53 ERA) on Tuesday, Colorado next faces pitchers Doug Fister (2.83), Zack Greinke (2.78), Clayton Kershaw (2.04) and Dan Haren (3.57).

"It's up to us to turn that around," Rockies manager Walt Weiss said. "Can't get caught up in that. Just have to turn it around."

The Rockies, who are waiting for pitcher Brett Anderson to make at least two minor-league rehab starts for the Triple-A Sky Sox, starting Wednesday, are countering that upcoming murderer's row of hurlers with an all-lefty rotation cobbled together on call-ups. Tuesday happened to be Friedrich's turn.

But Friedrich existed in the middle for most of his 3 innings. His 76 mph curveball to Nationals right fielder Jayson Werth in the first inning was meant as an out pitch. But Werth lined it into left field to score Denard Span and Anthony Rendon. And Ryan Zimmerman's sacrifice fly scored Werth.

"Command. He got in a lot of deep counts, a lot three-ball counts. That always makes it tough," Weiss said. "When you're in bad counts, it's tough to do."

Friedrich's strikeouts of Harper and Ian Desmond to end the inning were too little too late. Friedrich was pulled in the fourth inning — after he gave up five runs on five hits, struck out three and walked four over 84 pitches.

"I just need to execute more," Friedrich said. "And consistency is the key."

The Rockies' top draft pick in 2008's first round, Friedrich became a professional 12 months before Stephen Strasburg, the No. 1 overall pick in 2009. But they're eons apart.

Strasburg struck out eight against just one walk. He allowed one run on five hits over 7 innings. And he left to a standing ovation.

"Tough to play from behind against Strasburg," Weiss said. "And we got down early. It made it tough."

Beyond the first inning, the Rockies didn't fare much better.

Reliever Chad Bettis gave up a two-run double to Rendon. Then Werth doubled Rendon home. Werth scored on a wild pitch and the Nationals led 7-0, easily enough runs on a night when Strasburg was on his game.

"There's not much you can do when a guy, who's got that kind of stuff, is able to command the zone and work ahead and do what he did tonight," Rockies first baseman Justin Morneau said.

"Every game is new. You can't worry about today or yesterday. ... If you start thinking that way, you get in trouble."

Nick Groke: ngroke@denverpost.com or twitter.com/nickgroke