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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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Nats react to bizarre play when ump hit by wild pitch in loss to Rockies

Nats react to bizarre play when ump hit by wild pitch in loss to Rockies

In the eighth inning on Sunday, when Koda Glover's 96 mile per hour fastball sailed past Wilson Ramos' glove, Ramos heard a sound behind him and it was loud. That ball hit something and it wasn't the backstop. Ramos knows that sound. This was different.

He turned and saw home plate ump Mike Muchlinski on the ground. Muchlinski had fallen to his knees in pain, having taken a direct shot to his left shoulder.

"I knew it was a very hard thrown baseball. I heard the impact and it was very, very hard and loud," Ramos said through interpreter Octavio Martinez. "Based on the velocity of the ball, I knew it had impacted him pretty hard. The reaction I did was just to make sure the umpire was okay."

Ramos then realized the play was live, that the ball had ricocheted to the backstop, that Rockies shortstop Daniel Descalso had taken off from second and was on his way home.

"When I looked for the ball, I looked in the wrong direction because I didn't find it," Ramos said. "I turned around and couldn't find the baseball right away, so I felt a little lost in that sense."

Descalso would score on what was ruled a wild pitch. Muchlinksi remained behind home plate to call the rest of the game. But the Nats had allowed an insurance run that came in handy for the Rockies later on, especially after Bryce Harper hit a solo homer in the ninth to make it a 5-3 game. 

"That would’ve been a one run game, a different story. The ball hit the umpire. Willie was concerned about the umpire. The batter kept running, Baker said. "I guess in essence you got to go get the ball then come back and see how he is. I’ve never seen that play before."

Technically, the play falls on Ramos, who should have tracked the ball to the backstop and retrieved it. He was the only one who had a chance at it. Glover was too far away, as was first baseman Ryan Zimmerman. 

Glover, though, took ownership of the original mistake, the errant pitch.

"Me and Ramos got crossed up. I thought he put down a different pitch. it's on me, I squared the umpire up. Honestly, I don't know how that run's able to score. At most, I thought he'd be told to got to third. But that's just baseball," he said.

Given Baker - who has been in MLB for six decades - had never seen such a play, it's no surprise that Glover, a rookie, hadn't either. 

They may never see it again. For Ramos, though, he'll have to keep it in mind moving forward and hope the result is different next time, if there is one.

"I honestly don't know what the umpires could have done in that situation," he said. "I really don't know what they could do in that situation. It's really hard."

[RELATED: Giolito decent, but Nats offense falls short in loss to Colorado Rockies]

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Lucas Giolito's velocity remains down, but he and Nats aren't worried

Lucas Giolito's velocity remains down, but he and Nats aren't worried

Through Lucas Giolito's first four big league starts, there has been something noticeably off from what we've seen and heard over the years about what makes him one of the top prospects in all of baseball. His fastball is supposed to sit comfortably in the high-90s and occasionally touch triple digits. From his arm angle at 6-foot-6, and countered with his hooking curveball, his fastball was a big reason scouts say he has superstar potential.

He could very well still become one of the game's best pitchers, but the Nats' rookie remains a work in progress and his fastball is currently nowhere near as fast as it once was. On Sunday against the Colorado Rockies, Giolito sat consistently around 93 miles per hour. That's not bad at all, but it's a far cry from the prodigious speed he used to have.

We've heard manager Dusty Baker offer his theories and so far he's downplayed it as not being a concern. On Sunday, we heard for the first time from Giolito himself on the subject, as well as from his opponents.

Here is what Giolito had to say:

"I can pitch at 93 if I’m hitting my spots and mixing up well. I think I left way too many fastballs up over the middle of the plate. Those are the ones that got hit pretty hard. So, the velocity I don’t think is a huge deal as long as I’m pitching the way I should be pitching."

Rockies star third baseman Nolan Arenado, who homered and landed an RBI single off Giolito, offered his take on the velocity dip.

"The reports you read about him say he throws about 95, 97. Those are the reports we saw and on video. It wasn't that," he said. "It doesn't matter. His length, the ball kind of gets on you, has a little jump to it. He's so tall, so big. It's not a comfortable at-bat," Arenado said.

Rockies manager Walt Weiss said that despite the results and the velocity, he can see why there was so much hype around Giolito.

“The future is bright, for sure,” Weiss said. “Big kid, big time arm. He showed a really good breaking ball and threw some good changeups to go with a power fastball. I have heard a lot about him, going back to when he was in high school, and for good reason."

Giolito remains a big part of the Nats' future plans, but at this point in his career he is a raw talent. He's still building confidence with his changeup and working on the command of his curveball. And now he's trying to learn how to pitch with a fastball that's not as lethal as it once was.

That's a tough situation for a young pitcher who doesn't have the experience a veteran would have to draw from.

"I’ve been pitching a lot better [at Triple-A] and figuring some stuff out. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to execute on a few pitches today," Giolito said after Sunday's 5-3 loss. "The only thing I can do is continue to work and try to get better about living down the zone, getting ahead of guys, and then throwing all my pitches for strikes and putting guys away."

Giolito still showed promise on Sunday with a career-high five innings pitched. But the swing-and-miss stuff that he's shown over the years as a prospect has yet to follow him to the majors.

"We haven't seen it yet at the major league level," Baker said. "His fastball is relatively straight, so you've gotta locate it well. Hopefully it will get better."

[RELATED: Giolito decent, but Nats offense falls short in loss to Colorado Rockies]

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Giolito decent, but Nats offense falls short in loss to Colorado Rockies

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Giolito decent, but Nats offense falls short in loss to Colorado Rockies

Postgame analysis of the Nats' 5-3 loss to the Colorado Rockies on Sunday afternoon at Nationals Park.

How it happened: Given the circumstances of his start and the lineup he was facing, the Nationals couldn't have asked for much more than they got from 22-year-old rookie Lucas Giolito on Sunday against the Rockies. It wasn't his fault their offense couldn't manage much of anything against Chad Bettis, who took the mound with a 5.29 ERA.

Giolito stared down the best lineup in the National League and made it a career-high five innings with four runs allowed. He gave up six hits and two walks, including a pair of home runs. One was by Charlie Blackmon, the other by Nolan Arenado, who also tripled.

It wasn't the greatest outing, of course, but the Nats have certainly seen worse both lately and against the Rockies. They didn't give him nearly enough support and only scored three runs on the day, all on solo homers.

Trea Turner led off the game with his fifth home run of the season. Wilson Ramos smacked his 20th to lead off the seventh. That gave Ramos a career-high 69 RBI on the year. And Bryce Harper hit his 23rd in the bottom of the ninth. For Harper, he has now reached base in all 15 games since coming back from his neck injury.

The Rockies got another run off reliever Koda Glover. He allowed a one-out double to Daniel Descalso in the top of the eighth. Descalso then scored from second on a wild pitch that drilled home plate umpire Mike Muchlinski in the left shoulder. The ball bounced off the backstop and Ramos turned to check on the ump. That, in part, allowed Descalso to score on what was an all-around bizarre sequence.

The Nats' offense got six hits and a walk off Rockies pitchers. Ben Revere, Daniel Murphy, Anthony Rendon and Ryan Zimmerman went a combined 0-for-14.

Washington lost their second straight game and have now dropped six of their last eight overall.

What it means: The Nationals fell to 75-55 on the season and lost their first home series since July 22-24 against the Padres. The Marlins lost on Sunday, so the Nats' division lead remains at eight games. The Mets are just behind them at 8 1/2 back after pummeling the Phillies.

Giolito okay, but questions remain: Giolito again saw his fastball top out at around 93-94, which is fine but nowhere near the high-90s and triple-digit heat that helped make him the top prospect in all of baseball. Manager Dusty Baker has been asked about this several times this season and has yet to give a full explanation as to why the team thinks he has lost so much velocity. Baker doesn't seem concerned about it one bit, but it does seem like at least somewhat of a big deal if he's lost, say, five or six ticks off his most oft-used pitch.

Turner sets franchise record: In the same week Turner tied the franchise mark for hits in consecutive plate appearances, he became the sole owner of first in Nats/Expos history with 27 runs in one month as a rookie. His 27th came on his solo homer, which was one of two hits for him on the day. He now has 20 multi-hit games this season in 41 total outings. 

Turner, in fact, has six multi-hit games in a row, which ties the longest streak in MLB this season. Six other players have done that this year. Turner's homer, though, gave him just his first RBI during that stretch, which goes to show how much the bottom of their lineup has struggled in recent games. 

Zimmerman keeps struggling: After looking good initially when he returned from the disabled list on Aug. 20, Zimmerman has fallen back into a major slump. He went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts on Sunday and is now just 1-for-20 with seven strikeouts in his last five games. That one hit was a single and he has no walks during that span. Zimmerman's season OBP has dropped to .276, the lowest it's been since Opening Day.

Up next: The Nats hit the road to play at the Philadelphia Phillies on Monday night. First pitch is at 7:05 p.m. with Tanner Roark (13-7, 2.99) and rookie Jake Thompson (1-3, 9.78) set to square off.

[RELATED: Harper explains ejection vs. Rockies: 'It's not a strike']

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