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Experience could be key for Jackson in Game 3

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Experience could be key for Jackson in Game 3

A veteran of 10 major-league seasons, Edwin Jackson has helped lead a young Nationals pitching staff all year. He's helped show them what it takes to pitch every fifth day, how to slow down when an inning gets out of hand and how to prepare day after day throughout a 162-game season.

But on Wednesday Jackson will face his toughest test yet: Put the Nationals in position to win a pivotal Game 3 after two games where their starting pitching all of a sudden wasn't sharp. A strong start from Jackson could set the tone and sway the momentum of the series back in Washington's direction. It's a place he has been before and hopes to draw from the experience.

"The thing about postseason baseball is, the game can speed up real quick," he said. "You have to kind of control the pace and control the tempo. And having experience in that, it definitely helps when you get in those situations, being able to slow the game down and kind of take the crowd out of the equation and just think about concentrating on what you have to do."

Jackson has pitched in seven postseason games in his career, including twice in the World Series. Wednesday might not be an elimination game, but Jackson understands what is at stake for the young Nationals. Most of his teammates have never been in the playoffs, much less had to battle from behind in a series.

"It's high expectations on me.I have high expectations on myself, as well," he said. "This is one of those games where you go out and you try to lead by example."

Jackson has pitched in the playoffs before, but the results of his postseason outings do not suggest any guarantees. The right-hander, in fact, has a history of giving up runs early and has produced an overall mixed bag when the stakes are high.

Jackson started four games last postseason for the Cardinals, the team he will face on Wednesday. He earned the win in his first, Game 4 of the NLDS against Philadelphia, with six innings of two-run ball. But the two runs were actually allowed before he recorded a single out in the first.

Jackson pitched two games of the 2011 NLCS. In Game 2 against the Milwaukee Brewers, he allowed seven hits and a two-run homer to Rickie Weeks in a no-decision. The Cardinals ended up winning 12-3.

In Game 6, Jackson made it just two innings after giving up three home runs. The Cardinals had built a lead of four runs before he even took the mound. St. Louis also scored 12 runs that day and won 12-6.

Jackson started Game 4 of the World Series against the Texas Rangers and again was scored on early with a run allowed in the first. Jackson was able to pitch into the bottom of the sixth despite walking seven batters to go with three hits. The Cardinals lost the game, 4-0, thanks to eight innings of shutout ball by Derek Holland.

Jackson's other World Series appearance was with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2008. He pitched two innings of relief in Game 4, allowing a home run to pitcher Joe Blanton in what ended as a blowout loss to the Phillies.

Having been through each round before, and last season winning it all, nerves shouldn't be an issue for Jackson. And perhaps having both the ups and downs as a postseason starter will help him get over the hump this time around.

"Every inning you have to treat like it's the ninth inning, and you definitely want to come out and you want to get in a rhythm as early as possible," he said.

The most important factor in Jackson's prior experience may be the effect on his teammates. Catcher Kurt Suzuki says it will help everyone be calm and comfortable.

"I think it will definitely help out knowing that he's done this before. That he's been in these types of situations will definitely give him a little bit of an advantage."

Ryan Zimmerman feels assured that Jackson has pitched in games with the pressure of this one before.

"He has been through a lot and obviously he's pitched a ton in the postseason," Zimmerman said. "For him to have that experience and to go out there in a pivotal game in this series is gonna be great for us."

Jackson may have an inconsistent record in postseason games, but the mere fact he's been there before could make the biggest difference.

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X-ray on Nationals' star Bryce Harper's left thumb brings good news

X-ray on Nationals' star Bryce Harper's left thumb brings good news

The Nationals got a dose of good news on a night All-Star catcher Wilson Ramos went down with a potentially serious knee injury, as Bryce Harper's X-ray came back negative, meaning there are no broken bones in his left thumb.

Harper, 23, suffered the injury sliding into third base on Sunday afternoon in Pittsburgh. He had the X-ray on Monday morning and the team is of course pleased to hear the results.

"He could be back within a couple days, a few days. That’s big right there," manager Dusty Baker said. "The swelling’s down, so I think his strength is up, I heard. It’s very positive. We still got time for him to get well.”

Getting Harper back soon would be huge for a Nationals team that just saw Ramos go down and recently saw Daniel Murphy injure his left buttock and Stephen Strasburg strain his right flexor mass.

Murphy's injury is also not expected to be serious. Baker even said on Monday that it's "very likely" he will be ready to go for the playoffs. But that's four of the Nats' five All-Stars now injured to varying degrees with just six games left in the regular season.

At least with Harper, they may have dodged a bullet.

[RELATED: Ramos set for MRI as Nats hope injury isn't serious]

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Wilson Ramos set for MRI as Nats hope and pray injury isn't serious

Wilson Ramos set for MRI as Nats hope and pray injury isn't serious

The Nationals know this feeling all too well, the anxious wait for test results to determine the severity of an injury to a star player. The latest, with All-Star catcher Wilson Ramos, includes an MRI set for Tuesday morning.

Ramos suffered a right knee injury on Monday night against the Arizona Diamondbacks in the top of the sixth inning, the same knee in which he tore his ACL and MCL back in May of 2012. Ironically, Nationals manager Dusty Baker was also there for that one, in Cincinnati as the skipper of the Reds.

The Nats will hope and pray that this time it's not as serious.

"He doesn’t look too good tonight," Baker said. "You could tell he was in pain. We have to wait till tomorrow to come up with something definitive.”

Ramos buckled to the ground and pointed to his knee after a relay throw to home by Ryan Zimmerman sailed high over Ramos' head and required him to jump to catch it. The Nationals were playing on a wet field following a 20-minute rain delay and they believe the injury could be related.

“That probably had something to do with it. Yeah. Last time he hurt his leg it wasn’t an impact play either," Baker said. "We just got to pray for Wilson and hopefully he’s OK.”

The Nationals have already seen Stephen Strasburg go down with a right flexor mass strain, an injury that has put his postseason availability in question. Bryce Harper is currently out with a jammed left thumb. And Daniel Murphy has been out of the starting lineup for seven straight games with a strained left buttock.

Harper received good news on Monday that his X-ray was negative, but that's four of the team's five 2016 All-Stars who are banged up with just six games and 10 days left to go until the playoffs begin.

That's an unusual string of bad luck at a bad time to have it.

"My dad told me, ‘Don’t say what else can go wrong because something else can go wrong.’ I’m thinking what else can go right? I don’t think like that. I don’t allow myself to think like that," Baker said. 

"Those thoughts come into everybody’s head, but you’ve got to dispel them and try to figure out a way to get out of this mess. Bryce’s X-rays came out negative, so that’s a positive note in itself. It just seems like down this stretch you lose a guy, gain a guy. Like Stephen Drew. I’m glad we got Stephen Drew back. And who knows? Somebody else might step up and be the hero, the least likely of people. That’s how I think.”

Ramos earned his All-Star nod with a breakout season at the plate. He's batting .307 with 22 homers, 80 RBI and an .850 OPS. He has the lowest catcher's ERA in baseball and has emerged as one of the best backstops in the game, right before he's set to hit free agency this winter for the first time in his career.

Losing Ramos would be devastating for the Nationals at this point in the year.

"He’s a leader of this team. It’s a tough break, really is," Drew said. "It didn’t look too good. My thoughts and all these guys on this team hope for the best for him and we’ll be thinking about him.”

Everyone in the Nationals' clubhouse is pulling for Ramos, but Baker knows the Nats will have to keep going if his injury is serious. Backup catchers Jose Lobaton and Pedro Severino will have to step up in his absence, however long it is.

"I feel badly because you know how we all feel about Wilson, but it’s part of the game," Baker said. "You hate (for) it to happen this late, right before the playoffs, but our next step is try to figure out a way to play without Wilson. I’ve been mixing and matching this year and most of my life. Therefore it’s another obstacle and I just got to try to go back to the drawing board and figure out something."

[RELATED: Nationals on playing the Dodgers in NL Division Series round]

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