When the Nationals signed starting pitcher Edwin Jackson to a one-year contract in February, the team hoped it had acquired an innings eater who would not shy from pressure situations.
Jackson, after all, had helped the St. Louis Cardinals win the World Series in 2011. He also pitched in the 2008 playoffs with the Tampa Bay Rays. Now, the much-traveled right-hander is trying to do the same for the Nats, who host the St. Louis Cardinals on Wednesday in Game 3 of a National League Division Series. Even just four postseason starts and seven appearances makes Jackson, 29, a grizzled veteran compared to his fellow starters Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler. But with the series tied 1-1, Washington is confident Jackson can handle the pressure.
"The thing about postseason baseball is the game can speed up real quick," Jackson 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."
But it won't be easy. Jackson was throttled by the Cardinals on Sept. 28 at Busch Stadium. It was one of his worst starts ever (11Ú3 innings, nine runs, eight earned) in an eventual 12-2 loss. He rebounded in the regular-season finale by pitching into the seventh inning against Philadelphia and allowing just one run. And on Aug. 30 at Nationals Park, Jackson was the starter when his club whipped the Cardinals 8-1. He pitched eight innings that night and gave up just one unearned run.
"At this point, what you've done in the regular season, it's nonexistent," Jackson said. "You can go out and have a great regular season and have a bad postseason, and that's what everyone remembers."
No question Washington needs a better showing from its starting pitchers. That was a strength all season, but the team is without ace Stephen Strasburg, who was shut down in September after hitting an innings limit. Gonzalez walked seven batters in Sunday's Game 1 victory, and Zimmermann was again battered by the Cardinals in a Game?2 loss. Now it's up to Jackson to right the ship or else the Nats will face elimination in Game 4 on Thursday.
"That's been our strength to me," Washington manager Davey Johnson said of his rotation. "We haven't showed that yet."
Jackson finished the regular season 10-11 with a 4.03 ERA. But his ERA had been under 4.00 almost the entire season until that disastrous start in St. Louis. It was as low as 3.53 as recently as that Aug. 30 start vs. the Cardinals. In the biggest game of the season he has his teammates' confidence.
"[Jackson] definitely knows how to handle himself in these type of situations," catcher Kurt Suzuki said. "But I don't think it's anything different. Obviously, these young guys were pumped up, nervous, first time in the playoffs. I'm nervous myself. Having Edwin out there I think will definitely be a little calming factor."