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Edwin Jackson struggles, Tigers beat Nationals 6-3

AP - Sports

VIERA, Fla. (AP) Edwin Jackson wasn't about to get down on himself even though his third spring training start didn't go as smoothly as the first two.

The Washington Nationals right-hander, who had pitched six scoreless innings in his first two outings, gave up four runs, two earned, while allowing five hits and walking two in a 6-3 loss to the Detroit Tigers on Tuesday.

''It's the best I've felt (this spring),'' Jackson said. ''The results (were) not necessarily the best, but it's spring training. We get caught up in results in spring training, when spring training is a time where you're getting ready for the season. That's what we're out there doing. First game I had a walk. I'm not going to go kill myself.''

Facing one of his seven former teams - he pitched for Detroit in 2009 - Jackson could have called himself a victim of bad luck. After left fielder Jason Michaels dropped a first-inning fly ball by Detroit's Clete Thomas that would have retired the side, Ryan Rayburn turned on an inside fastball and drilled it over the left field fence for a two-run homer.

Rayburn came in tied for the Grapefruit League lead in home runs and leading it with 11 RBIs. He now has four homers and 13 RBIs.

Jackson opened the fourth inning by walking two straight batters, but then appeared to get a double play ball up the middle. Shortstop Ian Desmond, however, fell down and was able only to tag the bag at second with his foot for a force out. Gerald Laird then singled home a run, and Jackson was done.

The Tigers, still in search of their No. 5 starter, got a pair of strong performances from left-handed candidates Duane Below and Adam Wilk. Below got the start and allowed one run on four hits and three walks in 2 2-3 innings. He was followed by Wilk, who struck out one and gave up one hit in 2 1-3 scoreless innings.

''They both did well,'' Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. ''Wilky really pitched good. He had a good changeup. They're doing fine.''

Left-hander Casey Crosby, another candidate for the starting job, is scheduled to pitch Wednesday against the New York Mets. Right-hander Jacob Turner and left-handers Andy Oliver and Drew Smyly all pitched Monday.

Outfielder Jayson Werth hit his second home run of the spring, a solo shot in the sixth inning for Washington.

Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper is expected to be back in the lineup Friday after convincing manager Davey Johnson he has recovered from the tight left calf muscle that caused him to be a late scratch last Thursday.

Johnson said he arrived at Space Coast Stadium at 8 a.m. Tuesday - long before the game's scheduled 6:05 p.m. start - but couldn't get in because the doors were locked. When he finally made it in about 30 minutes later, he met Harper - who had shown up at 7:15 that morning and had gone to get breakfast after not being able to enter.

''Seeing how eager he was, I told him if he ran around here and had no problem, he would be in the lineup,'' Johnson said.

Harper made a number of running catches in the outfield while shagging fly balls, then took batting practice, where he hit several balls over the fence and even had some Tigers watching him, including Leyland.

''I've never seen the Harper kid, so I enjoyed watching him take BP today,'' Leyland said. ''He's got a lot of sound in his bat, that's for sure. He was pretty impressive.''

NOTES: Nationals outfielder Michael Morse was scratched from Wednesday's road game against Atlanta. He was Washington's DH on Tuesday night, going 0 for 3 with two strikeouts. He got treatment for his strained right lat muscle Tuesday, three days after receiving a cortisone shot. Morse is still feeling tightness when trying to throw the ball more than 90 feet. . Outfielder Rick Ankiel missed his fourth game with tightness in his left hamstring. Johnson said Ankiel would have been able to play if it were a regular-season game. . Johnson said he and pitching coach Steve McCatty have begun discussions about setting up the Nationals starting rotation. The biggest question mark could be where to put Stephen Strasburg, who will be limited to 150-160 innings this season. One possibility is making Strasburg the fifth starter, which could stretch his availability until deeper in the season. ''Yeah, he might be able to pitch the seventh game of the World Series,'' Johnson said. ''But if I wait that long, we might not get into the playoffs.'' . Leyland talked with Oliver on Tuesday morning and agreed with the youngster's idea to slow down his approach - both in his motion and in his mindset - so that he doesn't get out of control. The result has been that he has been throwing more strikes. ''I'm very pleased with him so far,'' Leyland said. ''He's got to just keep it going. No matter how this thing plays out, it's going to be good for him because he's starting to figure some things out.'' . Leyland said he was a little concerned about Turner's decreased velocity in his Monday outing, saying the right-hander might be in a ''dead arm period.''

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