Nationals go quietly as Brewers rough up Edwin Jackson again

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Washington finishes with just three hits as it loses to Milwaukee for third time in four games, 7-2

The Washington Nationals got an refreshing change of pace Sunday at Miller Park. The roof was finally open on a glorious afternoon, and instead of facing another Milwaukee Brewers right-hander, they encountered Brent Suter, who triggers the ambiguous “crafty left-hander” designation and wasn’t a threat to pitch deep into the game like Zach Davies, Jimmy Nelson and Brandon Woodruff did over the previous three days. Suter was on a strict pitch limit in his first start off the disabled list. It was, essentially, a predetermined bullpen game for Milwaukee, a curious strategy for a club clawing for a playoff spot in the season’s final month.

It worked, though, because the Nationals’ offense is in free fall without Bryce Harper and Edwin Jackson struggled against the Brewers again. The Nationals lost, 7-2, to drop three of four games in a potential National League Division Series preview. They collected three hits against five Brewers pitchers and had two base runners after the fourth inning, both in the ninth. They finished the four-game set with eight runs, 42 strikeouts, several balls hit into Milwaukee’s aggressive shifts and more than a few tossed helmets and bats in frustration.

“They were effectively wild,” Nationals Manager Dusty Baker said. “And like you saw today, their bullpen, everybody came out of the bullpen throwing some gas. A lot of it was up, and a lot of the breaking balls were down. So they pitched us tough this series.”

Jackson’s second stint with the Nationals (82-54) has been an unmitigated success. The Nationals took a flier on him in June, added him to their rotation in July in a pinch and have watched him revive one of baseball’s strangest careers. But the Brewers (72-65), who also opposed Jackson on July 25 in Washington, have roughed him up twice since he rejoined Washington.

The 33-year-old right-hander allowed five runs (four earned) on five hits and a walk across 5⅔ innings. All five hits went for extra bases; Domingo Santana clubbed two home runs, Neil Walker collected two doubles, and Ryan Braun smacked a double.

Jackson paid for hanging a slider to Santana in the second inning. Santana crushed the mistake 435 feet to give Milwaukee a 1-0 lead. Walker and Braun then began the fourth inning with back-to-back doubles. That brought up Santana, who smashed a two-run home run to left-center field, giving him 24 on the season and his fourth career multi-home run game.

The fifth run off Jackson was unearned; Walker scored on a sacrifice fly after Jose Lobaton’s passed ball put him on third in the sixth inning. He walked off the mound with two outs in the sixth having allowed 26 runs in 54⅔ innings in nine starts since joining the Nationals on July 18. The Brewers have scored 12 of them in 10⅔ innings across two games.

“You have to execute down in the zone,” said Jackson, whose ERA with the Nationals this season climbed to 3.29. “If you’re going to miss, it needs to be misses down in the zone. And today the misses were up, and they took advantage of it.”

Suter, meanwhile, wasn’t overwhelming in his three-inning cameo, but he held Washington to two hits before he was pulled after 43 pitches. The reins were then passed to Jeremy Jeffress, the first of four relievers to stifle the Nationals over the final six innings.

The foursome allowed three runners to reach base. The first was Ryan Zimmerman, the first batter Jeffress faced. Zimmerman walked and was immediately erased when Anthony Rendon grounded into a double play to begin a string of 16 straight Nationals retired. Washington snapped the run in the ninth when Junior Guerra issued a two-out walk to the scuffling Daniel Murphy, who finished the series 2 for 13 with three walks. Zimmerman followed with his 30th home run, reaching the mark for the second time in his career.

That was all for the Nationals, who were a two-run eighth inning Saturday away from getting swept. They were, however, a few positives to take away from the weekend. Ryan Madson and Enny Romero returned from injury. Madson tossed a perfect inning Saturday, while Romero logged 1⅓ scoreless innings Sunday in his first outing since Aug. 2.

And the Nationals didn’t lose any ground on their inevitable path to clinching their second straight National League East title. They landed in Milwaukee with a 15-game lead over the Miami Marlins and left with the same margin because the Marlins also lost three of four to the Philadelphia Phillies. Washington’s magic number, as a result, is down to 12 before the teams begin a three-game series Monday in Miami.

But the Nationals, weary amid 21 games in 20 days, head to South Florida in search of an offensive revival without their best offensive player. Since Harper’s injury Aug. 13, they have averaged 4.04 runs in 22 games. In their 114 previous games, they were averaging 5.41, the second most in baseball.

“Not having him hurts,” Zimmerman said. “As far as not pressing, I think it’s that time of year where everyone’s kind of worn down a little bit. It’s not any excuse for playing like crap offensively, but you go through those periods through the year.”

Better now than in October, but they will look to snap out of it Monday.

“We’ve got to get our act together down in Florida,” Baker said, “and we’ll be better there than here.”

More on the Nationals:

Stephen Drew weighing surgery that could cost him rest of season

Stephen Strasburg is ‘just a big, hairy, scary, furry animal out there’

Bryce Harper is ‘a long ways from running’ and frustrated by not being able to play

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