WASHINGTON -- The Nationals and their bullpen got just what they needed from Edwin Jackson on Saturday, but the 'pen couldn't help itself, and the offense went silent in a 4-0 loss to the Braves, just hours after a debilitating defeat the night before.
After falling late Friday in an extra-innings, 11-10 affair, the Nationals got a game Saturday more suited to their greatest strength: pitching. And they didn't fare much better.
The club was shut out for just the second time this season, wasting a superb outing from Jackson, who matched a season high with nine strikeouts. The surging Braves, with their 10th victory in their last 12 games, have now moved to just 1 1/2 games back of the first-place Nationals in the National League East with two games (including the second of a day-night doubleheader Saturday) remaining in the four-game weekend set.
"Days like we had last night, it's pretty important as a starter the next day to go as deep as you can to save the bullpen," Jackson said. "Those guys worked hard last night, they battled a lot. It's just one of those things -- you want to come out today and definitely want to go deep into the game."
Jackson was superb in doing so, but Atlanta starter Ben Sheets matched him. Aside from a Brian McCann home run in the second, the only blemish on Jackson's afternoon, the difference was that the Atlanta bullpen remained spotless once Sheets took his leave.
Sheets, making a 2012 comeback after not having pitched since 2010, has not allowed a run in either of his first two starts this year (12 total innings) with the Braves. He scattered five hits and three walks while striking out six on Saturday.
"If you ask me if I'm surprised I haven't given up a run, yeah I am," Sheets said. "But I'm not surprised I'm getting people out. I wouldn't have come back if I didn't think I could get people out."
Right-hander Kris Medlen picked up right where Sheets left off in the seventh, tossing two innings of one-hit ball before Chad Durbin finished the effort in the ninth.
On the Nationals' side, it was yet another bump in the road for a bullpen that has been exceptional most of the year. Once Jackson left after seven innings, Henry Rodriguez was charged with a hit, two walks and a wild pitch that yielded a run before he was yanked by Davey Johnson in the middle of Jason Heyward's at-bat.
"When he's good, he's really good. When he's not so good, he's not so good," Johnson said of Rodriguez, who has a team-high 10 wild pitches in just 26 innings of work. "He was awful good for those nine saves and then he kind of ... I don't know, he just gets excited or tries to do too much. It's as frustrating for him as it is for the rest of us."
Ryan Mattheus came in to stop the bleeding, inducing an unconventional 3-2-5 double play to keep the score at 2-0 before the Nationals hit in the eighth. But Mattheus himself made a first-pitch mistake to Chipper Jones in the ninth, as Jones laced Mattheus' offering deep to right field, over the Nationals' bullpen for the final 4-0 advantage.
Washington's offense, quiet all afternoon after scoring 10 runs Friday night, went down 1-2-3 in the ninth. The Nats were 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position on the day and grounded into two inning-ending double plays.
They got the most spark out of outfielder Roger Bernadina, who replaced Bryce Harper in the third inning after Harper fouled a ball off his left ankle. Bernadina bunted his way on and stole second in the third, but was stranded on third base when Michael Morse grounded into a double play to end the inning.
"We get our cleanup hitter up there with first and third and one out, he gets a good count in his favor," Johnson said. "That's the momentum shift right there. At least a sac fly or something, a couple home run hitters coming behind him. It's the little things like that.
Mike Fiammetta is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.