Edwin Jackson milled behind the batting cage during batting practice Friday afternoon, chatting with nearly every former teammate or coach that emerged from the dugout. He laughed with pitching coach Steve McCatty. He chatted with Ian Desmond and shared hugs and handshakes with more. In his first visit to Washington since signing with a four-year, $52 million deal with the Chicago Cubs this winter, Jackson remains a popular and well-liked figure among the Nationals.
After playing for eight teams in 11 seasons, he was accustomed to catching up with old teammates.
“I’ll be glad to see him,” Nationals Manager Davey Johnson said. “He did a good job for us. He’s very likeable. Everybody liked him. He did a good job. He’s the enemy now. I’m not giving him any secrets. My guys know him. He knows my guys.”
Jackson, 29, was an important part of the Nationals rotation last season. As a the team’s fourth starter, he was 10-11 with a 4.03 ERA, striking out 168 batters in 189 2/3 innings. He struggled with his consistency, but when he threw well, his hard fastball and biting slider could be dominating. He was a part of the Nationals’ run to their first NL East title.
“It was good to catch up with the fellas again,” he said, standing outside the visitor’s indoor batting cages. “We had a fun time last year. Good to see everybody again and see all the faces.
Jackson came to Washington on a one-year, $11 million deal late last winter. Last offseason, the Nationals declined to offer the right-hander a $13 million qualifying offer under the new draft pick compensation system.
If Jackson had accepted, he would have returned for that amount. If he had declined, the Nationals would have received a draft pick in return when Jackson signed with another team. Jackson had said he was interested in returning to Washington, and hoped to receive the multi-year deal that had, to that point, evaded him in his career.
“We felt with the depth we had at the major league level and the depth of free agents that we had out there that we had as good or better options,” General Manager Mike Rizzo said last November. The Nationals instead signed Dan Haren to a one-year, $13 million deal, seen around the sport as an upgrade to the rotation.
Asked about the not receiving a qualifying offer from the Nationals on Friday, Jackson was upbeat.
“I don’t really let the business side of baseball affect me,” he said. “Pretty much, it is what it is. That’s really how I looked at it. It was a place I wouldn’t mind coming back to. I like the clubhouse and I liked the team. It just didn’t work out that way.”
Jackson said the Nationals understood that he wanted to return to Washington. After he wasn’t extended the offer, he said there were no talks.
“Everything happens for a reason,” he said. “I’m not holding grudges on anybody. It is what it is. It’s an executive decision. There’s no hard feelings because I didn’t get a qualifying offer. If it’s meant to be it happens. If not, it won’t.”
Jackson was happy to be back in Chicago, where he pitched for the White Sox in 2010 and 2011. He loves the city. He got married this offseason and his 17-month-old son Exavier is thriving. He also received the multi-year deal he sought. Jackson (0-5, 6.39 ERA), however, is off to a rough start.
“It’s a good group, a good clubhouse,” he said. “There’s a lot of talent in here. It’s just a matter of going out and executing every day on the field. … Looking at the team on paper, there’s a lot of potential. There’s a lot of upside to the team. I’ve been on young teams before. Definitely a good group of guys. The record might not reflect the talent that we have but it is what it is. It’s a group that’s rebuilding.”
On Saturday, Jackson will take the mound at Nationals Park and oppose Stephen Strasburg. After moving so much in his 11-year career, it’s not an usual experience.
“I could have been going up against anybody,” he said. “All five pitchers I’ve played with, from Haren to Gio to Stephen to Ross. It’s a coin toss. At the end of the day, it’s another team that’s on the opposing side. You try to go out there and get a win.”