Edwin Jackson retired just one batter he faced in the fourth inning and allowed three hits in the frame.
Somehow, he still escaped with a scoreless inning of work.
The Nationals put on a defensive display in the fourth, helping Jackson get through an inning in which he didn’t make many great pitches.
Ryan Braun doubled leading off the fourth, his second double in as many at-bats tonight. Aramis Ramirez followed with a single to center, a sharply hit ball which Bryce Harper charged quickly.
Brewers third base coach Ed Sedar waved Braun home despite the fact there were no outs, and Harper unleashed a laser beam of a throw, which came in to catcher Jesus Flores on the fly. Flores applied the tag on Braun, home plate umpire Tim McClelland gave an emphatic out call, and Harper pumped his fist.
That was the eighth outfield assist of the season for Harper, most among National League rookies. It earned him a standing ovation from the crowd at Nats Park.
One batter later, Harper unleashed another ridiculous throw to the plate after Jonathan Lucroy’s single to center, although Sedar didn’t test the rookie center fielder this time. He held Ramirez at third, but Harper still got a loud ovation from the fans, who again appreciated the cannon of an arm which Harper put on display.
Jackson got out of the inning one batter later with a smoothly turned 4-6-3 double play, started by a nice backhand flip to the second base bag by Danny Espinosa.
The Nats lead 2-1 in the bottom of the sixth thanks to six strong innings from Jackson and a two-run homer in the first inning by Adam LaRoche. It’s the 31st homer of the season for the Nats’ first baseman, who is up to 96 RBIs on the year.
There’s a little movement in the Nationals’ bullpen, but with Jackson at just 72 pitches, he could go for a while.
Update: Jackson was exceptional tonight, going eight stellar innings and allowing just a single run.
The right-hander gave up six hits, only one of which came after the fourth inning, and didn’t walk a batter. He struck out six, and threw 101 pitches through his eight innings, 64 of which were strikes.
He leaves with a 2-1 lead entering the bottom of the eighth. Tyler Clippard, not Drew Storen, will be on to get the save opportunity tonight.
Update II: The Nationals’ 2-1 lead quickly turned into a 4-2 deficit.
Clippard blew his fifth save of the season (third since taking over the closer’s job), allowing runs on back-to-back RBI base hits by Braun and Aramis Ramirez and then watching as another run came in on Ian Desmond’s throwing error.
Given how well Storen has been pitching lately and how inconsistent Clippard has been the last couple weeks, the whole co-closer thing might not last much longer.
Update III: The Nats couldn’t overcome the three Brewers runs in the top of the ninth, falling to Milwaukee 4-2.
The loss will sting a tiny bit, but on a more big-picture scale, the Nats have to figure out how to get Clippard back on track. Even if he isn’t closing games down the stretch and in the postseason, they’ll still need him.
The Braves lost tonight, so even with the Nationals’ loss, their magic number to clinch the NL East drops to seven.