Jackson takes a big step in the right direction

VIERA, Fla. - Not many pitches that left Edwin Jackson's right hand this afternoon were struck well by Braves hitters.

One of them was. And it went a very long way.

With nobody out in the top of the fifth, Jackson threw a 2-2 fastball to Braves center fielder Jason Heyward. The pitch caught a little too much of the plate and Heyward absolutely crushed it, sending the ball over the batter's eye in center field - a piece of fencing that stands about 400 feet away from home plate and is at least 30 feet high.

"I think he just missed it," Jackson deadpanned after his outing. "I don't think he got all of it. It was a fastball in, and he hit it pretty good.

"If you're going to give 'em up, that's the way to give 'em up."

At least the Heyward homer didn't nail Jayson Werth's truck. And that's the last Jayson Werth truck joke I'll make for a while, I promise.

The Heyward homer was one of the lone blemishes on the afternoon for Jackson, as he went six innings, allowing just the one run on two hits with one walk and two strikeouts. The righty, who had struggled statistically in his last three outings, giving up 18 runs (13 earned) in 11 innings, was able to find a groove today by pounding the strike zone and forcing Braves hitters to put the ball in play.

"I was just trying to get the ball rolling as we get into the season," Jackson said. "I know spring has been kinda up and down, but just trying to go out with a little bit more focus and a little bit more (of a) season mentality.

"Early, I started off, it was kind of slow as far as rhythm and then kind of picked it up as the game went on and found a nice rhythm. (Catcher Wilson) Ramos and myself, we were pretty much in-sync the whole game, so kept things going and allowed the defense to make plays."

Jackson completed his six innings of work well under his limit of 85 pitches, marking the second day in a row that a Nationals starter went a full six frames with a low pitch count.

The 28-year-old spent the early portion of spring working on tweaking his mechanics, but lately, he's put all that stuff out of his mind when he's been on the mound. And today, with Jackson attacking Braves hitters much as he would in a regular season start, the results turned around.

"I'm definitely comfortable with (my mechanics), but the last three times, I haven't really been thinking about it," Jackson said. "That's a good thing for anybody. Anybody that's out thinking about mechanics, it's not real good. You're thinking about mechanics, then you're thinking about trying to get outs, then you're thinking about everything else. The less we think, the better off we are."

Jackson final pre-season start will come on April 3, when he takes the mound at Nationals Park to face the Red Sox in an exhibition game.

Final note for today: Chad Durbin has left the team for the next couple days to attend to his wife Crystal, who is pregnant with the couple's second child. Durbin delivered a scoreless outing with two strikeouts today, then said bye to pitching coach Steve McCatty and bolted out the door with a giant smile on his face.

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