Edwin Jackson bounces back, relies on pennant race experience

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Edwin Jackson is one of only three Nationals pitchers with playoff experience, and its only starting pitcher. After three recent starts in which he labored and couldn’t complete six innings, Nationals Manager Davey Johnson noticed that Jackson’s demeanor on Friday was more suited for October.

It was a purposeful approach.

“I wanted to bounce back,” Jackson said after a 4-2  loss to the Milwaukee Brewers on Friday night in which he left after eight innings with a 2-1 lead. “I feel like I can come out and help the team, pitch better and go deep into the games. Haven’t been able to do that the last few starts. So today was definitely the day that I felt like it was up to me to help and take charge of what we’re trying to do.”

Added Johnson: “He had that kind of postseason demeanor about him today.”

Jackson was masterful. He sliced through a hot-hitting Brewers lineup, allowing only one run on six hits and striking out six batters over eight innings. He pitched out of jams, aided by strong defensive plays, his lone mistake a solo home run to Jonathan Lucroy in the second inning. The Nationals clinched a historic playoff berth on Thursday but Jackson, upset with his recent play, knew the larger goal of a National League East title was still at stake. 

“You want the [playoff] information on the side but you also have to go and lead by example,” he said. “The last few starts I haven’t felt like I’ve done that. So I felt like I owed it to the team to try and come out and lead by example for the pitchers that we have, the group we have. It’s a great group already but to come out and instead of just giving information, you want to show it as well.”

Jackson encountered his biggest trouble Friday in the fourth inning after a leadoff single to Ryan Braun. The next batter, Aramis Ramirez, singled to shallow center but Bryce Harper gunned down Braun at home with the help of a nifty tag and block at the play by Jesus Flores. Lucroy followed with another single to center, but the threat of Harper’s arm held Ramirez at third. Jackson’s tailing fastball induced a first-pitch groundball from the next batter, Travis Ishikawa, for a double play to end inning. 

“He was great,” Johnson said of Jackson. “He started the game a little bit up, hung a slider to Lucroy. But after that he got back down and he was great.”

After Lucroy’s single, Jackson sat down 11 straight Brewers batters, relying heavily on his lively fastball and slider that drops like an anvil. Jackson ended the eighth inning after 101 pitches. He could have pitched the ninth inning but Johnson wanted a fresher Tyler Clippard to close the game.

Jackson’s experience will be invaluable in the playoffs. He has pitched in two World Series: 2008 with the Tampa Bay Rays and last season with the champion St. Louis Cardinals. He has also pitched more than 180 innings four times in his career and has built up the stamina for pitching late into the season. He is willing to lend an ear to any player seeking advice over coming weeks about performing in high-pressure situations. 

“You have to kinda slow the game down a little bit,” he said. “When you’re playing games this meaningful like this, it can speed up on you real quick. To do go out there and to slow it down is big. And once you’ve done it a few times it definitely helps since you’ve been in that situation before.”

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