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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 avoid arbitration, reach deal with Bryce Harper and three others

Nationals avoid arbitration, reach deal with Bryce Harper and three others

The Washington Nationals avoided arbitration and agreed to one-year deals today with Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon, Tanner Roark and newly acquired catcher Derek Norris.

If team's and players didn't agree to contracts by today's 1 p.m. ET deadline, an independent arbitrator will rule on the contract at a later date and decide how much the player will play for in 2017. 

Harper and the Nationals agreed to a $13.625 million deal, which was significantly more than the $9.3 million contract that was projected by MLB Trade Rumors. Last season, coming off his 2015 MVP campaign, Harper made $5 million. The 24-year-old will be a free agent after the 2018 season. 

Harper is coming off a disappointing season by his standards, in which he hit just .243 with 24 homers, which was way down from his total of 42 dingers in 2015. 

According to multiple reports, Rendon signed for $5.8 million, Roark signed for $4.315 million and Norris' deal was for $4.2 million.

Roark made just $543,400 last season, which he vastly out-performed. Roark was one of the most consistent pitchers in the National League last year as he won 16 games and posted a 2.83 ERA in 210 innings of work. 

With today's signings, all of the Nationals' arbitration-eligible players are under contract for 2017. 

Related: Tanner Roark to replace Max Scherzer on World Baseball Classic roster

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LOOK: Bryce Harper got married in suit jacket lined with pictures of wife

LOOK: Bryce Harper got married in suit jacket lined with pictures of wife

Nationals star Bryce Harper has a bold fashion sense, that's for sure. Just take a look at that hair. But he a more romantic fashion risk for his own wedding with a custom suit jacket. 

He opted for a navy blue tuxedo with black piping. It was the lining that really stood out as special. 

If you look closely, you'll see photos of Harper and his wife, Kayla, decorating the lining of the jacket. 

There's also the date of wedding and script reading "Mr. and Mrs. Harper." 

He credited the makers of his tuxedo, Stitched, in the tweet. 

MORE NATIONALS: Nationals’ Bryce Harper ecstatic to see bride on wedding day