Yesterday afternoon, Edwin Jackson grabbed a stray putter out of a teammate’s locker. He started hitting imaginary putts. “That’s in,” he said after each stroke. He chatted casually. He turned up the rap music on the clubhouse speakers. You would have never known he would be starting in a few hours.
Jackson has remained under the radar for the Nationals, overshadowed by the devastating 1-2 combination of Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez. But Jackson has been quietly put together a career year, a season that is making the Nationals’ one-year, $11 million deal for him look like a bargain.
“Jackson has just been exceptional,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “I think of the starters, he’s been as sharp as any of them.”
On a staff with Strasburg and Gonzalez, that is saying a lot. But after allowing two earned runs in seven innings last night, Jackson has a 3.11 ERA and a matching 3.11 strikeout-to-walk ratio, both career-bests. The Nationals signed him to be a workhorse, and he leads them with 72 1 / 3 innings.
“He’s like the silent assassin of the pitching staff,” right fielder Michael Morse said. “When you’re pitching behind those two guys, you’re always going to hear about what they were doing. But Edwin always goes out and puts up solid starts.”
Jackson has walked a career-low 2.4 batters per nine innings, even after walking four Mets hitters last night. Last year, Jackson threw 16.23 pitches per inning. This year, he has sliced that to 13.85, which ranks second in the majors behind only Cliff Lee.
“It’s just been a matter of coming at hitters,” Jackson said. “You have a great defense playing behind you. You want to make them put the ball in play. That’s always the approach. Going out and doing it is different from having that approach. You have to execute and perform.”
When the Nationals signed Jackson, they felt they could alter his wind-up to improve his performance with the bases empty. Rather than a mechanical overhaul, Jackson merely simplified his approach. The results have been staggering. Last year, opposing hitters batted .339/.390/.478 against Jackson with no one on base. This year, they have hit .185/.229/.363.
“Everybody was worried about the tipping of the pitches,” pitching coach Steve McCatty said. “I never saw it. Maybe some people picked something up. All I wanted him to do was be athletic. Just go out and worry about one thing, and that’s throwing the ball over the plate.”
Jackson has been a hit in the clubhouse, too. Teammates respect the way he will save the bullpen when needed, even if he has to absorb a beating (and even if that hasn’t often been necessary this year). “Great guy,” McCatty said. “He likes to compete. He’s come out and been aggressive. He’s thrown strikes.
“He’s not overshadowed for us, that’s for sure.”
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FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Syracuse 2, Louisville 1: Yunesky Maya allowed one run in 5 2/3 innings in four hits and two walks, striking out five. Brett Carroll went 1 for 2 with a double.
Syracuse 1, Louisville 0: Jim Negrych went 1 for 2 with a double. Jeff Mandel allowed no runs in five innings on one hit and no walks, striking out five.
Harrisburg 4, Binghamton 3: Eury Perez went 2 for 4 with two doubles. Chris Rahl went 2 for 4 with a double.
Potomac 8, Frederick 6: David Freitas went 5 for 6. Justin Bloxom went 2 for 6 with two home runs. Matt Swynenberg allowed four earned runs in 6 1/3 innings on nine hits and two walks, striking out two.
Hagerstown 9, Kannapolis 6: Brian Goodwin went 1 for 4 with a walk. Steve Souza went 3 for 5 with a double and a home run. Caleb Ramsey went 2 for 4 with a triple. Cole Leonida went 1 for 4 with a homer.