Last week, Edwin Jackson couldn’t throw a wrong pitch.
On Thursday night, the mercurial right-hander barely escaped the first inning at Nationals Park.
The inconsistency that stalked the 28-year-old Jackson’s career continued as the Houston Astros beat the Washington Nationals, 11-4.
The game sent fans streaming to exits by the thousands long before the final pitch, as the Nationals pitching staff that led Major League Baseball with a 1.92 ERA imploded against a patchwork lineup of prospects, castoffs and projects.
At the center was Jackson, coming off two-hit complete game against the Cincinnati Reds where the one-year, $10 million contract he signed with the Nationals looked like a bargain. After Jackson needed only 92 pitches to finish that game, he used 33 to scuffle out of the first Thursday.
“I pretty much felt the same,” Jackson said after allowing seven hits and five runs over five innings. “It was just a matter of executing pitches when I had the chance to put guys away.”
Jackson has tantalized and frustrated since he arrived in the big leagues in 2003 and bounced through seven teams before signing with the Nationals. His mid-90s fastball and hard slider – when working – can he unhittable.
Then there are stretches like the 19 minutes that grated past in the first inning Thursday. Jackson struck out the first man, then allowed six straight hits. Three were triples. Five runs scored as guys like Jose Altuve and Matt Downs looked as if they were taking batting practice.
All this from an Astros squad Sports Illustrated picked to finish 57-105 in the National League Central and which ranks in the bottom third of baseball in runs scored.
Jackson struggled enough that Nationals manager Davey Johnson, raspy-voiced and red-eyed from allergies, wondered if he was ill. Jackson’s fastball velocity was a couple of miles per hour below normal. And pitch after pitch floated down the middle of the plate.
“When you get down five in the first inning, it’s pretty tough,” Jackson said. “But you’ll have days like that.”
Johnson wanted to rest his bullpen for this weekend’s series with the Miami Marlins and the responsibility fell on Jackson to soak up innings. So, the pitcher told himself he needed to go as deep as possible.
While Jackson swore he didn’t change anything, he retired 12 of the next 13 batters he faced. Somehow his fastball regained the lost velocity.
And, for a few innings, he helped the Nationals stay in the game after Ryan Zimmerman’s three-run home run. Those hopes fell apart when Tom Gorzelanny relieved Jackson and was battered for eight hits and six runs in two miserable innings. Each ball hit against the left-hander seemed to find a patch of green to land.
But Jackson’s first inning hung over the night. Over 162 games, these innings and games happen. Wearing an “All Time High” T-shirt, Jackson shrugged off the difficult night. He didn’t feel erratic and believed he made good pitches.
“I can’t wait,” Zimmerman said, “for Edwin to pitch 30 more times.”