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Jackson's gem kicks off homestand

Jackson's gem kicks off homestand

As the rest of the sporting world worries about Stephen Strasburg's impending shutdown and the supposedly crushing effect it will have on the Nationals' championship aspirations, other members of the majors' best rotation simply takes the mound and does their part to carry this team to new heights.

The national discussion about the Nationals' rotation has been focused on Strasburg, with perhaps a little bit of love sprinkled in for Jordan Zimmermann and Gio Gonzalez. All the while, Edwin Jackson has quietly gone about his business, churning out innings and getting stronger and more effective as the regular season reaches its final month.

"People keep talking about Stras. You know, Edwin Jackson is a heck of a pitcher," Jayson Werth said following Thursday night's 8-1 triumph over the Cardinals. "He's a big-game pitcher. He won big games last year, late in the year, in the postseason. Take Stras out and put Edwin in. I like it."

What's not to like? With eight dominant innings Thursday night against the NL's most productive lineup, Jackson continued his late-August surge and carried the Nationals to a rousing victory in the opener of an 11-game homestand.

The man who has occupied the No. 4 slot in the Nationals' rotation all season -- and will be bumped up to No. 3 once Strasburg is shut down in the next week or two -- now sports a 2.79 ERA over his last eight starts and has struck out at least eight batters in five of those outings.

This latest start rivaled any Jackson has made this season. He allowed only four hits, struck out 10 and didn't let a St. Louis player get past second base until his eighth and final inning of work.

"That was a gem," manager Davey Johnson said. "I mean, good-hitting ballclub, and he had electric stuff."

Facing many of his teammates from last year's World Series championship roster, Jackson took advantage of his familiarity with St. Louis' lineup and made some talented hitters look downright foolish flailing away at his diverse repertoire.

"I think it helped, yeah," catcher Jesus Flores said. "He had a lot of confidence in what he was doing out there. We really talked about every hitter before the game, and he executed everything he said."

Jackson downplayed the ex-teammate angle.

"They know me. I know them," he said. "At the end of the day, I always say it's a matter of going out and executing. And when you get run support like I did tonight, it definitely doesn't hurt if you want to go out and execute with a lead."

Run support has been something of a foreign concept to Jackson this season. In his nine losses, the Nationals have scored a total of 14 runs. So imagine the right-hander's delight when his teammates exploded for eight runs off Cardinals pitching Thursday night.

The offensive attack was consistent throughout the evening, but it was ignited by the first two Nationals who stepped to the plate. Jayson Werth led off the bottom of the first by drawing a five-pitch walk, then Bryce Harper turned on a 2-0 meatball from Jaime Garcia and sent it flying into the right-field bullpen for his third homer in 24 hours.

That was merely the beginning of a big night for the Nationals' 1-2 hitters. Combined, Werth and Harper produced four hits (two of them homers), a walk, five RBI and four runs scored.

Add in their performances Wednesday night in Miami, and the Werth-Harper combo is now 8 for their last 19 with four homers, nine RBI and seven runs scored.

"I love hitting behind him," Harper said. "Like I said before, he sets the tone early and he really fires me up and gets me going. Having him hit in front of us really sets the tone for everybody."

Werth's return from a broken wrist at the start of the month has been nothing short of remarkable: In 25 games, he's hitting .337 with a .408 on-base percentage and .478 slugging percentage.

That latter number was boosted Thursday night when the veteran outfielder connected for his first home run since suffering the injury, a towering blast over the left-field bullpen to lead off the fifth inning.

Having been through major wrist injuries earlier in his career, Werth admittedly had some concern about his ability to regain a power stroke once he returned from this DL stint. Early in the rehab process, though, he made the decision to switch to a lighter bat, dropping 1 12 ounces, and the difference has been noticeable.

"Immobilized for that long, you lose a lot of strength," he said. "And I still feel like I haven't gained it all back yet. I went to the lighter bat, but my swing's been good since coming off the rehab and I like where I'm at. You know, it's not always about hitting homers. I think those will come. That's just a matter of being in good position and getting a good pitch."

Whatever Werth is doing right now, it's working. And it's making a significant difference for a Nationals lineup that -- when healthy -- boasts seven players capable of hitting at least 20 homers over a big-league season.

That kind of top-to-bottom production only makes the task easier for a pitching staff that on Thursday shut down the NL's statistically best lineup.

"Obviously they've got the best offense in the league," Johnson said. "But they're going to have to hit against a pretty good pitching staff."

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Nationals rally against Rivero, beat Pirates 10-7

Nationals rally against Rivero, beat Pirates 10-7

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- The tag was clearly fake. What happened next was all too real for the NL East champion Washington Nationals: Bryce Harper got hurt and needs X-rays.

Harper injured his left thumb making an awkward slide to avoid a pretend tag by Pittsburgh third baseman Jung Ho Kang, and the teams later cleared the benches Sunday in Washington's 10-7 win.

Nationals manager Dusty Baker said Harper was "sore" and would have X-rays on Monday. The reigning NL MVP had surgery to repair a torn ligament in the same thumb in 2014.

Harper led off the third inning with a triple. As he neared third, Kang acted as if a throw was coming and feigned a tag.

Harper went down, was checked by a trainer and stayed in. He scored on Anthony Rendon's double and was replaced in the field in the bottom half by Chris Heisey.

Kang insisted he merely intended to keep Harper from scoring when right fielder Josh Bell's throw was way off line.

"First of all, I meant no harm," Kang said through a translator. "During the relay play, I tried to hold the runner on third base. That's all I tried to do."

The next time Kang came up, Nationals starter A.J. Cole threw a fastball behind him and was immediately ejected by plate umpire Jordan Baker as the benches emptied.

Cole said he was trying to pitch inside to Kang. Baker said the entire situation wasn't ideal for a team that is focusing on a playoff run.

"We don't want guys suspended," Baker said. "But you know, boys will be boys, and you've still got to defend your teammates."

Washington's Jayson Werth was in the middle of the skirmish. Pirates outfielder Sean Rodriguez was ejected.

"I was very surprised I was the only one ejected considering," Rodriguez said. "I got blamed for being the one that instigated, but you can watch the film yourself."

Werth had a pinch-hit, two-run homer and Heisey had a go-ahead single during a five-run burst in the eighth. The Nationals' rally came against former teammate Felipe Rivero (1-5).

Rivero had allowed just four earned runs in his previous 25 innings since being traded from Washington to the Pirates.

Kang hit a two-run homer off Koda Glover to give the Pirates the lead in the seventh.

Shawn Kelley (3-2) wound up with the win. Former Pirates closer Mark Melancon pitched a scoreless ninth for his 43rd save.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Pirates: C Francisco Cervelli did not play after taking a foul ball off his wrist Saturday. ... RHP Neftali Feliz (arm) threw off flat ground but is not yet ready for a return to the mound.

UP NEXT

Nationals: Tanner Roark (15-9 2.70 ERA) had his start pushed back one day after the Nationals clinched the NL East on Saturday night. He'll looking for his career-best 16th win as Washington hosts Arizona for a four-game series.

Pirates: Chad Kuhl (5-3, 3.73 ERA) will start as Pittsburgh begins a four-game series against the NL Central champion Chicago Cubs. Kuhl has allowed seven earned runs in 7 1/3 innings in his two previous starts against Chicago this season.

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Benches clear in confrontation between Nats and Pirates

Benches clear in confrontation between Nats and Pirates

With the division title clinched the night before, it seemed the Nationals were poised for an uneventful series finale against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sunday afternoon. 

That wasn't to be, as the two clubs engaged in a benches clearing altercation in the bottom of the third inning. The tension started in the top of the frame, when Bryce Harper was injured while sliding to third base on a triple. The Nats took exception to Pirates third baseman Jung-ho Kang faking a tag on Harper, which may have led to the injury. 

So when Nats starter A.J. Cole threw behind Kang in the bottom of the inning, the near-fracas was ignited.

Cole was immediately ejected from the game, benches cleared, and each side exchanged words. The Pirates' Sean Rodriguez was also ejected from the game.