Taylor Jordan. (Photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

After his outing, Nationals right-hander Taylor Jordan found Steve McCatty and essentially apologized. It’s not that the pitching coach isn’t a fan of strikeouts, he just prefers outs and doesn’t like what strikeouts can do to pitchers’ pitch counts. In three innings in Saturday’s 8-2 split squad win over the Atlanta Braves in Viera, Jordan faced 12 batters and struck out six. Last season, he struck out more than four batters in a game only once.

“That is definitely new to me,” Jordan said afterward about the strikeouts. “I was telling Cat, ‘I’m not trying to go for these strikeouts. Those are just extra pitches I have to throw. I just want groundballs, really.’ So all these extra strikeouts are just more pitches I’m throwing.”

The reason for the strikeouts against a Braves lineup with a regular infield of Freedie Freeman, Dan Uggla, Chris Johnson, Evan Gattis and Andrelton Simmons?

“I’m starting to get the feel for my pitches back, especially my breaking ball and my change-up,” Jordan said. “I guess with a better breaking ball and change-up you get more strikeouts.”

“He knows that if he gets behind in the count he can throw a sinker and guys beat the ball into the ground,” Manager Matt Williams added. “What he did (Saturday) was throw his breaking ball for strikes and his change-up for strikes and that’s where he gets his strikeouts. He’s always got his sinker to rely on, which is good.”

Jordan has focused on improving his slider this spring. His sinking fastball, which sat around 92 mph on Saturday, is steady. His change-up is “usually almost always there,” he said. But he wants his slider to neutralize right-handers, and also to keep left-handed batters honest, although his change-up mostly takes care of that. He said he is trying to find and keep a consistent arm slot with his slider and the right amount of spin. He doesn’t want the side-spinning slider, but the one that breaks straight down. “The more downward motion you have with any pitch the better,” he said.

“The slider last year was hit or miss,” he added. “It wasn’t really there last year. I was still trying to figure it out. It was here and there. It looks really good right now. If it keeps on staying like that, you should see a little bit more strikeouts this year.”

Jordan has allowed three runs over seven spring innings, but he has walked none and struck out 11. Williams said that coaches have told him that Jordan has grown as a pitcher since last season. After his third appearance of the spring, Jordan is less nervous about his right ankle, which he broke in the offseason and is healthy now, and a potential final spot in the Nationals rotation.

“From this start versus the other starts, I see a big difference in my overall manner out there,” he said. “I was not nervous at all compared to the other two games where my legs were literally shaking. I could see my legs shaking. It was bad. That’s good. That means I’m starting to calm down.”

Even though his ankle had healed, he needed to pitch on it and feel normal again before the fears of about it could escape his mind. He said he also resolved not to worry about making the team.

“I’m trying not to think about that anymore because it was killing me,” he said. “It was just killing me. I’m gonna really just throw as best as I can, and not really try to do anything too much.”