When pitching coach Steve McCatty went out to talk to talk to Edwin Jackson after the Nationals righty had issued a four-pitch leadoff walk in the eighth inning, the conversation was pretty cut and dried.
As McCatty puts it, it was like a scene out of the movie “Full Metal Jacket.”
“I went and asked him, ‘How are you doing?’ ” McCatty said. “He says, ‘I’m fine.’ I say, ‘Well, do you want this?’ He goes, ‘Yes.’ I said, ‘Well, if you want it, you tell me you want it.’ And he said, ‘I want it,’ just like that, and I felt like that drill sergeant. ‘Tell me like you’ve got a pair!’ But I didn’t say that, so you don’t have to write that.
“No, he said that he wanted it. I knew he wanted it. He was throwing the ball great.”
The leadoff walk had concerned manager Davey Johnson, given his lack of a history with Jackson and the fact that the potential tying run was standing in the on-deck circle with the Nationals holding a 4-1 lead.
But after his talk with McCatty, Jackson responded. Oh, did he respond. The 28-year-old struck out the next three hitters he faced - all swinging - to forcefully shut the door in the eighth, and then retired the side on just seven pitches in the ninth, giving him his fifth career complete game.
“When I’m seeing a gem and we need it and I’m seeing lights out, it makes me nervous,” Johnson said. “I don’t usually get nervous, but when you see something like that - he had a low pitch count, just a dominating game - from a manager’s standpoint, it’s kind of like you don’t want anything to go wrong. You kind of protect against all contingencies. You’re all wound up. I talked to Edwin. I said, ‘Man, I was nervous.’ He said, ‘Well, Skip, I wasn’t.’ A great performance like that couldn’t come at a better time.”
Other than that one moment in the eighth inning when Jackson momentarily lost his control and a stretch in the second where he allowed three straight batters to reach and one run to come in, the righty was spectacular. He allowed just two hits and one walk, and struck out nine.
Usually a guy whose pitch count inflates quickly, Jackson had thrown just 66 pitches through the first seven frames, and finished with just 92 pitches on the day.
“That tells me a lot of things,” Johnson said. “It tells me his stuff was outstanding. And that hitters were swinging early in the count. It tells you a lot. Not wanting to get behind on him, so early swinging. And his command was outstanding.”
Jackson struggled in spring training, posting a 6.51 ERA and allowing 44 base runners over 27 2/3 innings. But he faced just three hitters over the minimum today, and was still mowing down hitters late in the game, sitting at 95 mph with his fastball and mixing in a nasty curve.
“At times, he pitched backwards and in fastball counts was using his breaking ball,” McCatty said. “He had a real good breaking ball today, and he kind of knew after last night’s game, using a lot of guys and stuff he was maybe going to bear down a little bit more than usual. And he threw the ball great.
“Spring training, I don’t worry about that. He’s a veteran guy, just out there kind of getting his work in. It looked kind of ugly at times in spring training, but he’s throwing the ball really good.”