WASHINGTON -- Edwin Jackson pitched the way the Cubs had hoped, but it was his two-run double that provided the spark the team needed Saturday.
Jackson, Anthony Rizzo, and David DeJesus each drove in two runs to lift the Cubs to an 8-2 victory over the Nationals and even the series.
The Cubs weren't sure if Jackson's struggles in his first seven starts were because he was feeling some pressure after signing his first long-term contract. The right-hander, who received a four-year, $52 million contract this offseason, has played for eight different teams, including the Nationals last season, and likes to joke about how easy it is for him to make friends. But going 0-5 to open the season was a concern.
"It is a natural emotion when you get a contract to try to do much more than you're capable of doing, instead of just being yourself," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "Hopefully, those kind of things are going away. He just needs to be Edwin Jackson and not worry about how much money he's making."
Jackson did exactly what he needed to do, and he joked after the game he was going to give himself a celebratory beer shower.
"It was definitely nice to get the monkey off my back to come out and help contribute to a team win," Jackson said.
It was a big monkey.
"It felt like the same size as me, that I was carrying double," Jackson said. "When things are going bad, you can either fold and collapse or you can continue to work hard and climb your way out of a hole."
Jackson continued to work, and he hasn't shown any frustration.
"You couldn't tell he was 0-5, and that's the ultimate pro," Rizzo said. "He comes in and does his work and he's a great teammate, and great clubhouse guy."
"You try to stay consistent," Jackson said. "It's tough to do when things aren't going good and it's easy to stay up when things are going good. You don't want to be the guy loud and talking everywhere when you're doing good, and once you're going bad, you're hardly heard from. You have to be the same person every day."
Jackson had struggled with one bad inning in each of his outings, but this time, Stephen Strasburg had a Jackson-esque fifth. In the first four innings, Strasburg held the Cubs to one hit and struck out seven. He was in command.
"I can't lie to you, he was throwing his breaking ball for a strike and I didn't see anything under 96 [mph]," Sveum said of the Nationals' ace. "When he has that breaking ball and he's throwing it for a strike, you're in a lot of trouble."
But with two outs in the fifth, Welington Castillo reached on a throwing error by Ryan Zimmerman. Darwin Barney then walked, and both he and Castillo scored on Jackson's double, his first hit in 12 at-bats this year.
"That was probably the difference in the whole ballgame," Sveum said of Jackson's hit. "If Strasburg punches him out there, it's a whole different ballgame. Those kind of guys settle in and it's a shutout, and you're battling the rest of the game."
Jackson had joked with some of his former Nats teammates on Friday that he was looking forward to facing Strasburg. How did he approach the at-bat?
"It was 3-2 [in the count], I was looking for something I could hit hard," Jackson said. "He's throwing 96, 97, 98 [mph], and I'd been missing the whole game, and I told myself to relax and find something I could make contact with.
"You saw how he made me look the first [at-bat]," Jackson said of a strikeout in the third. "Fastball, fastball, than, whoo, slider and it kind of froze me. I felt when it was 3-2, he was going to try to come at me -- he doesn't want to walk a pitcher -- and I got a pitch I could drive."
Strasburg then walked DeJesus and Starlin Castro was safe on an infield hit to load the bases for Rizzo, who hit a two-run single. Rizzo ended the inning when he was caught trying to steal second.
Strasburg was replaced by Zach Duke in the sixth, and Alfonso Soriano greeted him with a leadoff double. Nate Schierholtz then singled, and Soriano scored on a wild pitch. Cody Ransom hit an RBI double to open a 6-1 lead and Castillo was hit by a pitch. Two batters later, DeJesus added a two-run single.
Jackson was pulled after throwing 88 pitches over 5 1/3 innings, and left the bases loaded for Shawn Camp. Ian Desmond, who homered in the fifth, added an RBI single off Camp.
Jackson was aggressive the first five innings, then seemed to lose his rhythm after sitting for the Cubs' long fifth and sixth innings. This was only the second time in Jackson's eight starts that he has left a game with the chance for the win.
"Anytime you get a veteran pitcher a lead like that, he is going to be effective," Desmond said. "He did his job.
"Playing with a guy, you kind of learn about his character. You give [Jackson] a lead, he is going to be in the zone. He is going to pitch effectively. He is going to try and go as far along in the game as he can. That's exactly what he did today."
Jackson got some help defensively. Rizzo made an acrobatic catch of Ryan Zimmerman's popup in the eighth, falling backward as he juggled the ball, yet somehow holding on.
"It's like it was in slow motion," Rizzo said.
It isn't often you see someone 6-foot-3, 240 pounds doing backwards somersault.
"That's from when I was younger," Rizzo said. "My gymnastics skills took over."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.