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."

Nationals' bats can't come up with enough late in loss to Cubs

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Nationals' bats can't come up with enough late in loss to Cubs

By JAY COHEN, AP Sports Writer

CHICAGO (AP) -- Kyle Hendricks pitched six scoreless innings, Ben Zobrist drove in four runs and the Chicago Cubs beat the Washington Nationals 5-2 on Thursday night in the opener of a four-game series between two of baseball's hottest teams.

Hendricks (2-2) allowed two hits, struck out four and walked two as Chicago began a 10-game homestand with its fourth consecutive win and eighth in nine games.

Zobrist hit a two-run single in the fourth and a two-run homer in the eighth, helping the Cubs improve their major league-best record to 21-6 for their best start since they were 23-4 in 1907.

Reigning NL MVP Bryce Harper singled and walked twice against Hendricks, but the right-hander shut down the rest of Washington's lineup. Michael Taylor was stranded at second after a two-out double in the third for the Nationals' first hit.

Jayson Werth hit a long two-run homer in the ninth for Washington, which had won five of six, including a 13-2 victory at World Series champion Kansas City on Wednesday. The Nationals began the day with baseball's second-best record at 19-8.

Joe Ross (3-1) matched Hendricks for much of the chilly night, striking out nine in 6 2/3 innings. The 22-year-old right-hander allowed five hits and walked two.

One rough stretch was enough to send Ross to his first loss since Aug. 16 at San Francisco.

Chicago's first four batters in the fourth reached safely, producing two runs. Tommy La Stella singled, Kris Bryant had a ground-rule double and Anthony Rizzo was walked intentionally before Zobrist's single to right gave the Cubs a 2-0 lead.

Rizzo was thrown out trying to advance to third on Zobrist's hit, and Ross retired the next two hitters to get out of the inning. But the damage was done.

Clayton Richard and Justin Grimm combined for a perfect seventh for Chicago before Pedro Strop wriggled out of a jam in the eighth.

Zobrist connected for his third homer and Addison Russell added an RBI double in the bottom half, providing some valuable breathing room.

After Werth went deep against Travis Wood with two down, Hector Rondon retired Wilson Ramos on a liner to first for the final out.

Washington second baseman Daniel Murphy was greeted with a round of boos when he came to the plate in the second inning. It was Murphy's first game at Wrigley Field since he hit four homers while helping the New York Mets sweep the Cubs in the NL Championship Series last year.

CHANGE OF PLANS

Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward tested his sore right wrist in batting practice and was planning to return to the lineup on Friday if he felt OK. But he ended up playing center in the series opener after Dexter Fowler was ejected for arguing with home plate umpire Vic Carpazza after he struck out looking to end the third.

Heyward, who signed a $184 million, eight-year contract with Chicago during free agency, went 0 for 2 with a strikeout.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Nationals: OF Ben Revere, who is on the disabled list with a right oblique strain, rejoined the team and could be activated soon. "I'd rather wait an extra day, especially because I've seen too many guys say I'm ready and they come back and they do it again," manager Dusty Baker said. "Hopefully he doesn't injure himself again the rest of the year."

Cubs: C Miguel Montero, on the DL with lower back tightness, hit before the game and manager Joe Maddon said trainer P.J. Mainville was encouraged with his progress.

UP NEXT

Washington ace Max Scherzer (3-1, 3.35 ERA) takes on John Lackey (3-1, 4.32 ERA) in a matchup of veteran right-handers on Friday afternoon. Scherzer is 1-0 with a 1.42 ERA in three career starts at Wrigley. Lackey needs six strikeouts to become the fifth active pitcher with at least 2,000 Ks, joining CC Sabathia, Bartolo Colon, Felix Hernandez and Jake Peavy.

Ross' 9 Ks not enough to overcome Zobrist and Hendricks' big night

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Ross' 9 Ks not enough to overcome Zobrist and Hendricks' big night

Postgame analysis of the Nats' 5-1 loss to the Chicago Cubs on Thursday night at Wrigley Field:

How it happened: Ben Zobrist came to play. The highly prized free agent signed during the offseason to round out the Cubs infield started things off early, driving in Tommy La Stella and Kris Bryant in the fourth inning on a single to put the Cubs.

Four innings later, with the Nationals unable to make good contact off Kyle Hendricks (2-2, 6 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 4 SO), Zobrist tacked on two more thanks to a big, two-out home run to left field off reliever Felipe Rivero.

Two batters later, Addison Russell drove in Ryan Kallish on a double off Joe Kelley to put the Cubs up 5-0.

Bryce Harper reached on a walk in the top of the ninth and Jayson Werth cleared the bases on a home run off Travis Wood, but Carlos Rodon shut the door on Wilson Ramos and the Nats, procuring the final out.

What it means: The 5-1 win moves the Cubs' run differential to an absurd +96. It's still an early-season series, but four games in Chicago will help fuel the narrative heading toward the All-Star break. The Nats' bats were cold, but Bryce Harper reaching base four times is a good sign that maybe brief slump is coming to an end.

Ross' standout start: Despite suffering his first loss of the year, Joe Ross tossed perhaps his best game of the 2016 campaign. Although he gave up a season-high two runs, he also recorded a season-high nine strikeouts and allowed just five hits and two balls.

His slider was working early, recording his first three punchouts using his go-to pitch. The 22-year-old hurler continues to dazzle early in the year and his been a pleasant surprise.

He faced his biggest test to date and while he took the loss, his performance certainly wasn't anything to scoff at.

With a 1.23 ERA, he ranks behind just Gio Gonzalez and Jake Arrieta for the league lead. That's good company to keep.

Murphy comes up empty: Daniel Murphy did not record a hit. That may sound a bit odd and with good reason. Thursday night was just the fourth time all season Murphy has failed to get a hit this season. His two strikeouts was also a rareity, just the second-time he's been sent down twice in one outing in 2016. But fear not. Each of Murphy's hitless games have been followed up by multi-hit games with at least one RBI. Friday will be different for sure.

Revere waits again: There was speculation that Ben Revere would make his return to the lineup on Thursday after spending a month on the DL due to a strained oblique he suffered during the first week of the season. But after giving it a go in pregame warmups it was determined that one more day of rest would get Revere back to 100%, and he is expected to be back on the field on Friday, 

What's next: Max Scherzer (3-1, 3.31 ERA) takes on John Lackey (3-1, 4.32 ERA) on Friday afternoon with Lackey needing just six strikeouts to become the fifth active starter with at least 2,000 Ks, joining the likes of Bartolo Colon, Felix Hernandez, Jake Peavy and CC Sabathia.

Nats open highly-anticipated series with Cubs looking to make statement

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Nats open highly-anticipated series with Cubs looking to make statement

Nationals (19-8) at Cubs (20-6)

After a successful road trip the Missouri whichs aw the Nationals best the reigning world champion Royals and the always dangerous Cardinals, they must do battle with MLB's best team: The Chicago Cubs.

The Nationals and Cubs are both considered top contenders to win the 2016 World Series, and while that is still months away, their first encounter will provide a small sampling of how the two teams stack up.

On top of that, Ben Revere, who suffered an oblique strain in the first week of the season, is expected to make his return to the roster in Chicago.

First pitch: 8:05 p.m.
TV: MASN
Radio: 106.7 The Fan, XM 869
Starting pitchers: Nats - Joe Ross vs. Cubs - Kyle Hendricks

NATIONALS

CF Michael Taylor

3B Anthony Rendon

RF Bryce Harper

1B Ryan Zimmerman

2B Daniel Murphy

LF Jayson Werth

C Wilson Ramos

SS Danny Espinosa 

RHP Joe Ross

 

CUBS

CF Dexter Fowler

3B Tommy La Stella

RF Kris Bryant

1B Anthony Rizzo

2B Ben Zobrist

LF Ryan Kalish

SS Addison Russell

C Tom, Federowicz

RHP Kyle Hendricks

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