A Leader Down the Stretch

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All season long, the Nationals have been content to defer the spotlight. As Showtime selected the revamped division-rival Miami Marlins to feature in their reality series The Franchise, the Nationals quietly went about winning ballgames and building a lead in the National League East. With all the focus on the return of Stephen Strasburg, starter Jordan Zimmermann set out his slow and steady path towards a breakout year. And despite all the attention paid to Bryce Harper’s debut season, fellow rookies Tyler Moore and Steve Lombardozzi have played their own, integral roles in the club’s success thus far.

Jackson seems to have only gotten stronger as the season has gone along.

And so, it is only fitting that Washington’s best pitcher of late has gone largely unnoticed, quietly dominating under the radar of the national spotlight. After his latest masterpiece – an eight-inning, 10-strikeout, 122-pitch performance against the same Cardinals team he helped to a World Series title last year – Edwin Jackson has emerged as one of the strongest arms in the rotation heading down the stretch. After struggling with his command in the middle of the season, Jackson has been more aggressive of late, throwing his mid-90s fastball, low-90s cutter and hard, diving slider for strikes.

“It’s just a matter of being comfortable with it at the end of the day,” Jackson said on Friday of his willingness to attack the zone the night before. “You just have to go out and pitch with confidence.”

Jackson has plenty to be confident about. After touching the double-digit strikeout plateau five times in his first nine years as a professional, he has achieved the feat in each of his last two home starts, mixing in eight K’s in the road start between them. All told, the right-hander has fanned 29 batters in his last 21.0 innings pitched, allowing only 13 hits over that span. In the month of August, during which he went just 2-3, he punched out 49 in a span of just 37.2 frames. He also eclipsed 100 pitches in all six of those outings, and has done so eight straight times he has toed the rubber for the Nats, proving his durability time and time again.

When Jackson throws all three of his pitches for strikes, as he did Thursday night, he is hard to beat.

In fact, after the Nationals dragged into extra innings against the Houston Astros on consecutive nights August 6 and 7, Jackson was made available to come out of the bullpen the next day, if need be. On August 20, as Washington battled into the 13th inning against Atlanta. With relief options already exhausted, Jackson trotted down to the bullpen to warm up for the top of the 14th, just over 48 hours after he threw 103 pitches against the New York Mets. On a team full of young players, he is setting the example, through his late-season play as much as his warrior mentality, of what it takes to be a champion. As for the credit, he leaves that for others to worry about.

“Whoever (the media) wants to put in the spotlight, that’s their prerogative,” he says. “As far as we’re concerned in here, on your day, everybody has to be a superstar. All we want to do is go win games any way we can.”

Jackson has shown his willingness to do just that – make sure the team wins by any means necessary. If the rest of the Nationals can follow his lead, it should be an exciting September and beyond.

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