Homers costly in opener of doubleheader
It has long been one of Edwin Jackson's greatest strengths. Give him the baseball, he insists, and he can throw it all day long.
Sometimes performance gets in the way of intention, of course. But after a devastating loss Friday night and with a doubleheader looming Saturday, the Nationals needed Jackson's durable right arm to save a tired group of relievers.
He did his job well enough in a 4-0 loss to the Atlanta Braves. By the time the real damage was done, Jackson had already logged seven complete innings and thrown 111 pitches. In the end, Washington manager Davey Johnson needed just six outs from his bullpen and held most of his relievers for the second game, which ended too late for this edition.
|Nationals rookie center fielder Bryce Harper fouled a bunt attempt off the top of his left ankle in the first inning of Saturday's 4-0 loss to Atlanta. Harper hobbled around in pain before remaining in the game. But after an inning in the field, he was replaced by Roger Bernadina to start the third. X-rays were negative on Harper's ankle, but he has a contusion, according to manager Davey Johnson. Harper was not in the lineup for Game 2 of the doubleheader vs. the Braves.|
Jackson gave up one earned run on five hits with two walks and tied a season-high with nine strikeouts. It also ended a tough stretch in which he had allowed 16 runs in his last three starts. But Jackson was more concerned with making sure he took care of teammates who endured a bitter loss Friday when the Nats fell 11-10 after blowing a 9-0 lead to the Braves.
"Days like we had [Friday], it's pretty important as a starter the next day you can go as deep as you can to save the bullpen," Jackson said. "Those guys worked hard [Friday] night, and they battled a lot."
The only real mistake Jackson made was with his fastball. He left one over the plate to Atlanta catcher Brian McCann in the second inning, and it was launched into the right-field seats for a 1-0 lead.
That was all Braves starter Ben Sheets needed. The veteran right-hander missed the entire 2009 and 2011 seasons with elbow injuries and appeared in just 20 games in 2010. Once one of the sport's premier pitchers, he finally has returned to action this month and has made due despite reduced velocity. Washington managed just five hits off Sheets in six innings -- though he also walked three batters. But Michael Morse and Danny Espinosa hit into double plays in the third and fourth innings, respectively, and Atlanta earned another in the seventh when Jesus Flores popped a bunt into the air and Espinosa was doubled off first base.
After Jackson left, Henry Rodriguez gave up an insurance run in the eighth on a leadoff single to Michael Bourn, a stolen base, two walks and a wild pitch. Chipper Jones hit a pinch-hit homer off Ryan Mattheus in the ninth to secure the victory.
"We needed to conserve that bullpen as much as possible -- both sides did," first baseman Adam LaRoche said. "Both starters did great. But they got the big home runs, and that was it."