Jackson will get nod in Nationals’ Grapefruit League opener

VIERA, Fla. - Edwin Jackson, the most recent starting pitcher to join the Nationals, will start the team’s March 3 Grapefruit League opener against the Astros in Kissimmee, Fla., manager Davey Johnson said Friday.

“I talked to him in throwing drills and he was up for that,” Johnson said.

Jackson, like the rest of the pitchers in camp, will take the next two days off from throwing activities before pitching live batting practice Monday, Johnson said. The right-hander, who signed a one-year free agent deal worth $11 million on Feb. 2, would then work a bullpen session Feb.29 before the exhibition opener against the Astros.

A tentative spring rotation was set up by Johnson after conferring with pitching coach Steve McCatty and spring training pitching instructor Greg Booker, the pitching coach at Triple-A Syracuse.

“I already kind of knew how I wanted to do them, and (McCatty and Booker) were all close to what I was thinking,” Johnson said. “Basically, I went through the first five ... and everybody was comfortable with that.”

Johnson also announced his starting pitchers for the second and third road games of the spring. Lefty John Lannan will start the March 5 game against the Mets in Port St. Lucie, Fla., and righty Jordan Zimmermann will take the ball March 7 when the Nationals host the Cardinals at Space Coast Stadium.

That leaves two assignments open: the home exhibition opener March 4 against the Astros and a road game in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., versus the Braves on March 6. Johnson said he would announce who would start those games tomorrow, though it’s a good bet that right-hander Stephen Strasburg and left-hander Gio Gonzalez will get the nods. Strasburg will probably get the home opener, as he’s never started a road game in Grapefruit League and his presence will help the Nationals pack Space Coast Stadium.

Right-hander Chien-Ming Wang will throw a simulated game in Viera on March 5, then probably make a start in the next round of games.

As promised, Johnson will try to piggyback the other five starting pitchers in camp on the hurlers making the first round of starts. However, the guys who start games won’t be used in relief and the pitchers working as relievers won’t move to starting assignments unless there’s an injury, Johnson said.

Johnson said Jackson joked to McCatty not to pay too much attention to his bullpen sessions because he traditionally struggles in that environment, but the right-hander said after throwing Friday that he felt fine.

“My arm feels good and everything’s going according to plan,” Jackson said.

While starting the exhibition opener may help create a comfort zone for the newcomer, Jackson has grown accustomed to changing teams. The Nationals are his seventh major league club and he’s played in four cities the last three years, including two different stints with the White Sox.

“It’s not hard to me,” he said. “I’ve been from American League to National League, National League to American League, so I’ve been transitioning between leagues. It’s just a matter of coming in, learning the system and seeing how everything is run. Pretty much, it’s just becoming acclimated to the system. It doesn’t take long. It becomes natural.”

Being an Army brat, Jackson is well-versed in adaptation.

“All I know is pick up and move, so it’s no different,” he said.

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