Washington Nationals manager Davey Johnson has done plenty of talking behind closed doors the past few days, including a heated argument with general manager Mike Rizzo.
He used more calming words that seemed to inspire his first-place club before its last contest.
Fresh off ending a five-game losing streak, Washington hosts the opener of a four-game series when it faces fellow postseason hopeful St. Louis for the first time in 2012 on Thursday night.
Johnson and Rizzo each downplayed their run-in after a loss to Philadelphia on Sunday, and the veteran manager held a team meeting prior to Wednesday's contest with Miami that he described as "upbeat."
Washington's offense proceeded to snap out of its funk, scoring one more run that it had during its entire skid in an 8-4 victory that increased its NL East lead to five games over Atlanta.
Bryce Harper - who was ejected in the ninth inning for slamming his helmet after grounding into a double play - had his first multi-homer game with a two-run blast in the fourth and a solo shot in the fifth."We're still the team in first place," Harper said. "Everybody is getting ahead of everything and saying we're struggling. We went through a skid. That happens. Everybody is trying to catch us. It's harder for them."
Washington (78-51) has won six of the last eight matchups with St. Louis, which had its lead for the NL's second wild-card spot trimmed to one game with Wednesday's 5-0 loss to Pittsburgh.
The Cardinals (71-59) were shut out in the final two games in Pittsburgh after winning six of their previous seven contests."We've seen quite a bit of this year, it's been a lot of feast or famine," manager Mike Matheny said. "It's hard to understand it because we certainly have the ability to put something up there every night."
St. Louis will look to get its offense back on track against former Cardinal Edwin Jackson , who signed a one-year deal with Washington in the offseason.
Jackson (7-9, 3.72 ERA) has lost his last two starts, though he didn't pitch badly in either. He gave up two runs and struck out a season-high 11 in seven innings of a 2-0 loss to the Mets on Aug. 18, then allowed three runs and punched out eight in six frames of Friday's 4-2 loss at Philadelphia.
Jackson will be facing the Cardinals for the first time since helping them win the World Series after being acquired from the White Sox in July 2011. He went 5-2 with a 3.58 ERA in 12 regular-season starts and one relief appearance, followed by making four playoff starts.
Jackson is 0-2 with a 3.54 ERA in four starts and a relief outing against his former team, which counters with Jaime Garcia .
Garcia (3-5, 4.15) shined in his first start since returning from a shoulder injury, giving up two unearned runs in eight innings against Pittsburgh on Aug. 19. His next outing didn't go as well, as he allowed four runs in six innings of Saturday's 8-2 loss to Cincinnati.
The left-hander is 2-0 with a 1.65 ERA in three career starts against the Nationals.
|St. Louis Cardinals|
|August 28, 2012||Yadier Molina||Day-to-Day||Left game - strained upper back|
|August 25, 2012||David Freese||Day-to-Day||Left wrist contusion|
|August 25, 2012||Yadier Molina||Day-to-Day||Sprained ankle|
|August 21, 2012||Carlos Beltran||Day-to-Day||Right hand injury|
|August 16, 2012||Yadier Molina||Day-to-Day||Back stiffness|
|August 08, 2012||Allen Craig||Day-to-Day||Sore ribs|
|August 24, 2012||Ian Desmond||Day-to-Day||Strained right hamstring|
|August 24, 2012||Michael Morse||Day-to-Day||Left game - right hand contusion|
|August 13, 2012||Jayson Werth||Day-to-Day||Sore right ankle|
|August 05, 2012||Mark DeRosa||15-Day DL||Left abdominal strain|
|August 01, 2012||Henry Rodriguez||15-Day DL||Strained lower back|
|July 29, 2012||Adam LaRoche||Day-to-Day||Left game - Back tightness|
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Edwin Jackson had the St. Louis Cardinals swinging at pitches in the dirt, so often that catcher Jesus Flores ended up with three assists throwing the ball to first after strikeouts.
Jackson fanned 10 in eight stellar innings Thursday night as the Washington Nationals padded their NL East lead with an 8-1 win over the punchless Cardinals.
"That was a gem," Washington manager Davey Johnson said. "He had electric stuff."
Bryce Harper hit his third home run in two games, and Jayson Werth homered for the first time since May for the Nationals, who opened an 11-game homestand with an overwhelming performance against a wild-card contender that failed to score an earned run for the third straight game.
The news was worse for the Cardinals afterward, when shortstop Rafael Furcal was concerned that he might have suffered a season-ending injury while making a pair of throws in the sixth inning.
"It's bad," said Furcal, who was diagnosed with a strained right elbow and will have an MRI on Friday.
The victory moved the Nationals 5 1/2 games ahead of the idle Atlanta Braves . Washington's recent five-game losing streak has tightened the race again, but Johnson's team has come out of the funk with 16 runs in two games, led by the top-of-the-order tandem of Werth and Harper.
A day after his first two-homer game, Harper hit a drive so hard that it short-hopped the back wall of the Nationals bullpen and bounced all the way back over the right-field fence. It was a two-run shot in the first inning, and the teenager followed by hitting the ball even farther in the third - only to have it caught on the warning track near the 402-foot mark in straightaway center field. Some in the crowd gave him a standing ovation as he returned to the dugout.
Harper added an RBI single in the sixth, further evidence that he's fully emerged from a post All-Star game slump. Furthermore, he played all nine innings - unlike the night before, when he was ejected for throwing his helmet.
"Bryce is a totally different animal," Werth said. "He's a special player. He's 19. It's unbelievable. When I was 19, I don't know if I would have been ready for all this. I'm just glad he stayed in the game tonight."
As for Werth, he led off three innings and scored each time. He walked and singled, then hit his first homer since returning Aug. 2 from a long stint on the disabled list with a broken wrist. He has four home runs on the season and raised his average to .305.
"I was swinging the bat good. I just haven't hit any balls that go over the fence," Werth said. "But it was nice to do that. It's a lot easier when you don't have to sprint around the bases."
The way Jackson (8-9) was pitching, the Nationals didn't need all that offense. Once Flores realized the Cardinals hitters were fishing for the slider, he kept calling it - even if it meant adding another 2-3 putout to the scorebook.
"It definitely lets you know either they're trying to get you, or either they're just not seeing that pitch that well," Jackson said. "Either way, you just want to try to continue to throw it and keep it out of the zone if they swing."
Jaime Garcia (3-6) allowed six runs over 5 1-3 innings for the Cardinals, who streak of 28 scoreless innings came to an end when Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman launched a throw well over the first baseman's head in the eighth inning, allowing a runner to score from second on the error.
St. Louis, now with a half-game lead in the race for the NL's second wild-card spot, was shut out in back-to-back games by Pittsburgh before arriving in Washington. The Cardinals last went three consecutive games without scoring an earned run in 1992.
"Nothing we can put our finger on," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "No explanation at this point."
NOTES: St. Louis LF Matt Holliday singled in the first for his 1,500th career hit. ... The Nationals pitching staff surpassed its previous best total for strikeouts in a season since the franchise moved to Washington in 2005 - and there's still 32 games to go. ... Cardinals C Yadier Molina , who collided with Pittsburgh Pirates 2B Josh Harrison on Tuesday, was medically cleared to play just a few hours before Thursday's game. He went 0 for 2 with a walk. "I really didn't want to pass on the struggles that I had and automatically throw them on to him," said Matheny, whose playing career ended in 2007 due to a concussion. "Just because I had a soft squash doesn't mean that he does. It's not fair not to him. The conversation we had was, `Hey, if you pass the tests and the doctors say it's OK, I'm not going to stop you. But I'm going to be extra cautious, because I know more about this than any one person should know."' ... Gio Gonzalez starts for the Nationals on Friday night, facing Adam Wainwright .
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