Johnson wanted to gauge the validity of the Nationals’ suspicion that Jackson had been less effective from the wind-up than the stretch because of tipping pitches. If Ramos could see the seams from behind the plate, Johnson reasoned, then a batter could pick up his grip, or the way Jackson held his wrist.
“Yeah,” Ramos told him. “I can.”
Johnson started watching from behind the plate and noticed that Jackson did, in fact, “show more ball” from the wind-up than the stretch but “it wasn’t real obvious,” Johnson said. Johnson had never seen anything quite like it: Jackson dropped the ball below his glove as he removed it from his left hand, which gave the batter a peek.
On Jackson’s first day, the Nationals did not instruct him to start tinkering with his delivery. But they plan on using this spring to alter his motion in such a way that allows him to better hide the baseball from hitters during his delivery.
When the Nationals signed Jackson to a one-year, $11 million deal last month, they knew about his odd splits when pitching with the bases empty (from the wind-up) and with men on base. Over the past three seasons, the league has hit .283/.344/.438 with no runners on base against Jackson. The league has hit .246/.308/.385 against with men on.
That brings up a question: Rather than having Jackson change his wind-up, why not pitch from the stretch at all times?
“That’s a preference,” Johnson said. “Some starters go to that because they feel their rhythm is more consistent. Some feel more relaxed going from the wind-up. They feel like they have better rhythm. It’s all an individual thing. You don’t really want to tell a guy to change something that’s kind of part of who he is.”
Johnson said the change would not require an overhaul, and should not be all that difficult of an adjustment. But, for a pitcher, something as elemental as the way the ball comes out of his glove can be hard to monitor and change.
“It would be like, do you know what your elbow is doing when you stick the fork in your food?” Johnson said. “It’d be like if somebody you’re tipping the way you’re going to eat. As an athlete, you don’t really dissect yourself, because you’ve done it so often.”