TORONTO — Everything about the way Edwin Jackson goes about his business is relaxed, reserved and with a come-what-may attitude. Questions are answered with a “Whatever, man,” or a “Time will tell.” His words come across more wise sage than 28-year-old flamethrower.
The cameras and headlines about the Nationals’ stellar starting pitching focus on Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann. As the names are rattled off, shortstop Ian Desmond points out “our starting rotation’s so good you forgot to mention the two-time almost-20-game winner,” in Chien-Ming Wang.
They garner the attention and leave Jackson be to go out and throw eight innings of three-hit baseball in a 6-3 win over the Blue Jays. A game that started “slow as molasses drying,” as manager Davey Johnson put it, and almost ended with their second complete game performance of the season.
They allow the man making $11 million this season to look at himself and see a wily veteran. And Jackson, quite possibly the best No. 4 starter in all of baseball, quietly puts together nights like Monday.
“I feel like I’m the one in the rotation whose job it is to pound and eat innings,” Jackson said, his performance nothing close to fitting that description, outside of the fact that he did indeed go deep into the game. “Of course everybody wants to eat innings, but I can sacrifice personal numbers to go out and help the team.”
The way the game began Monday night, perhaps, that was what he was thinking. Jackson labored through a 24-pitch first that featured a thunderous home run into the upper right field deck at the Rogers Centre by Colby Rasmus. Staked to a two-run lead before he even took the mound, Jackson looked as though he might not be long for the domed stadium. But his teammates never flinched.
“Not even a little bit,” said Desmond, who contributed to the Nationals’ six-run output on 14 hits with a 2-for-5 night. “I knew he’d settle down and settle into it. Edwin’s such a good teammate. He’s not going to continue to go out there and throw 20 pitches an inning. He’ll put it over the plate and let them hit it and trust the defense. He’s obviously got a really good understanding of what a team player is.”
But that type of game, type of sacrifice wasn’t necessary. With a fastball that averaged over 93 mph and a hard slider, he averaged 12 pitches per inning over the next seven frames, and allowed one more hit — a single to third baseman Brett Lawrie in the third — before the silence came. Jackson worked his way through the next 20 Toronto batters, scattering two walks. When he walked into the dugout following the eighth inning, the Nationals leading by five runs, he shook his head at his manager.
“I thought that meant he was done,” Johnson said. He was wrong.
“Wasn’t really much of a conversation,” Jackson said. “I’d seen him debating whether he want to go to the ‘pen or not so I just told him, ‘Give me a batter. If one person get on, you can come get me.’ He did that.”
It was an Edwin Encarnacion double to center field that would indeed end his night. Sean Burnett was summoned from the bullpen for the game’s final three outs. As Jackson made his way off the field, a smattering of Nationals fans behind the team’s dugout gave him a standing ovation. If his teammates could’ve, they would’ve too.
“He’s one of those guys,” said first baseman Adam LaRoche, his third-inning, two-run homer giving Jackson a 4-1 lead to work with. “He’ll throw 150 pitches for you if you need him to. I’ve seen it before. I’ve seen some dominating games where (he starts) going 3-2 a lot, walks a few guys, sprays some balls, but when he needs a big pitch he has a way of making it happen.”
The Nationals watched Blue Jays ace Brandon Morrow leave after nine pitches with a left oblique strain. Bryce Harper was 3-for-4 with a walk, Rick Ankiel joined LaRoche in hitting one out of the Rogers Centre, and Michael Morse added his second RBI of the season. But it was Jackson, trotting his way out of the dugout inning, after inning, after inning, who won Game No. 59 for the Nationals.
It was Jackson who helped continue their current roll, which now puts Washington (36-23) three games up on the second-place Atlanta Braves in the National League East and makes them winners of seven of their last nine games.
“We’re just playing and we’re winning,” Desmond said. “I don’t think we’re super-hot. Because when we get super hot it’s going to be really fun.”