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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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What will Joe Ross' role be for Nationals in playoffs vs. Dodgers?

What will Joe Ross' role be for Nationals in playoffs vs. Dodgers?

It was just a few weeks ago that Joe Ross' postseason availability was in question, and if he could return in time, whether he would pitch out of the Nationals' bullpen and or as a starter wasn't clear. Manager Dusty Baker wondered aloud if he would get his young right-hander back, even as Stephen Strasburg dealt with elbow injuries.

The progress Ross has made in a short period of time since is remarkable and after his 90-pitch outing on Thursday afternoon against the Diamondbacks, the 23-year-old looks and feels ready for the playoffs, and not just to pitch in relief, either.

"I'm hoping I get the opportunity to start, but that's up to them," Ross said. "But I'll take any opportunity I get to pitch and go out there and compete. I just want to help the team in any way I can."

Ross wasn't great on Thursday in his third start back from the disabled list. He only made it four innings, as his pitch count soared early. But in giving up just one run, he's now pitched 9 2/3 innings in three games back. During that stretch he's allowed three runs and struck out 14.

[RELATED: Wilson Ramos hopes to be back with Nationals]

It has been a process of baby steps for the Nats starter, a slow progression back from right shoulder inflammation, an injury rehab that featured a setback in late July. Now, though, he is essentially back to normal, just in time for the NL Division Series which begins next week.

"I feel good. I felt really good today. I felt really good last start. I guess it's just a point of executing pitches," he said. "There's no doubt in my mind really on whether I can go out and compete."

Baker mentioned that Ross could pitch in releif early in the NLDS against the Dodgers. That could keep him available for a start later on, if it's kept short like a normal bullpen session.

But one has to wonder if Ross has improved his case enough to pitch Game 3 of that series, given Gio Gonzalez' recent struggles. The lefty has allowed 19 earned runs in his last 23 innings going back five starts.

Regardless, Ross has certainly come a long way in just three MLB outings.

"He looks ready," second baseman Wilmer Difo said through an interpreter.

With all the negative injury news the Nationals have received in recent days, between Wilson Ramos' season-ending injury and Strasburg essentially ruled out for the NLDS, having Ross fully back in the mix is a nice change of fortune for the NL East champs.

[RELATED: Matt Belisle sounds like safe bet for Nats playoff roster]

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Wilson Ramos knows his knee injury could mean the end of Nationals' tenure

Wilson Ramos knows his knee injury could mean the end of Nationals' tenure

Wilson Ramos won't be on the field for the Washington Nationals when the team takes on the Los Angeles Dodgers in the N.L. Divisional Series next week.

The 2016 N.L. All-Star catcher will undergo surgery to repair the ACL he tore in his right knee on Monday night against the Diamondbacks

Ramos has been arguably the Nationals' most constant offensive threat this season, and had positioned himself as the team's backstop for the foreseeable future.

But the injury changed everything.

Not just because the surgery and rehab will stretch well into Spring Training, but because the 29-year-old Ramos will become a free agent at the end of the season. On top of that, a second ACL injury (He tore it in 2012 as well) means that taking the field everyday as a catcher may not be a viable option for him much longer.

"Unfortunately, this injury happened so close to the end and it may affect whether I’m able to stay with a National League team or not," Ramos told reporters prior to the Nationals' 5-3 win over the Diamondbacks on Thursday afternoon.

"But if it’s up to me, I definitely would like to keep playing for the Nationals and play as long as I can."

Ramos is a solid defensive catcher, but his biggest strength is at the plate. Being able to be a part of a lineup everyday is where he is most valuable, and that may mean playing in the American League, where he can serve as the designated hitter and fill in as catcher.

But this doesn't mean Ramos is done as a member of the Nationals, just that he's aware his time could be coming to an end.