VIERA, Fla. - Now that Taylor Jordan is three appearances into spring training and he's settled in, having put up a couple of solid outings, he can admit it: he came into spring training feeling pretty nervous.
In both of Jordan's first two spring outings, he took a look down at the ground before throwing his first pitch and noticed something.
"My legs were literally shaking," Jordan said yesterday. "I could see my legs shaking. It was bad."
Two factors went into that - Jordan's health and the fact that he's battling for a spot on the Nationals' big league roster this spring.
After getting his first taste of the big leagues last year, making nine starts and putting up a strong 3.66 ERA, Jordan suffered a freak injury early in the offseason, breaking his ankle while getting out of a pool. He rehabbed the injury and came into camp saying that he was 100 percent healthy, but in the back of his mind, he wasn't sure whether the injury would affect his performance on the mound.
"The unsure aspect of that for the first two games (affected me)," Jordan said. "I'm healed. I just needed to put that out of my mind and stop thinking so much. I was thinking each pitch was gonna get hit hard. That's not the way you're supposed to go into it thinking."
Knowing that he was being watched closely by manager Matt Williams, pitching coach Steve McCatty, general manager Mike Rizzo and other decision-makers as he competed for the final spot in the Nationals' starting rotation didn't help any, either.
While Jordan had already gotten his feet wet in the majors and pitched well, he didn't need to go through any real competition for a job last year. He wasn't a part of big league camp and started the season in high Single-A, before quickly rising through the ranks and reaching the big leagues. This time, however, he felt the pressure squarely on his shoulders early in camp, knowing that he needed to pitch well to have a shot at that No. 5 spot in the rotation.
"It was there," Jordan said. "I wasn't focused on it. But yeah, I was thinking I had to really do well.
"It was killing me," he added. "It was just killing me."
When Jordan took the mound yesterday, coming in with a runner on first and nobody out in the third inning in relief of Ross Detwiler, he realized his legs weren't shaking. He wasn't nervous anymore.
"That's good. That means I'm starting to calm down," Jordan said.
"I'm gonna really just throw as best as I can and not really try and do anything too much."
Jordan's comfort level was evident in his performance yesterday. He allowed a run on three hits, but was really sharp overall, striking out six batters in just three innings of work. He struck out two in the third inning, despite feeling like he was leaving pitches up in the zone, but felt really good about his final two innings.
Not normally known as a strikeout guy (he averaged just 5.1 strikeouts per nine innings with the Nats last season), Jordan saw yesterday that he can overpower big league hitters in addition to just focusing on getting groundball outs with his sinker.
"That is definitely new to me," Jordan said. "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."
McCatty, who is a big proponent of his pitchers not going for strikeouts and instead trying to get early outs on balls in play, must love hearing that. But if Jordan can continue to develop his secondary pitches, especially his slider, he can add another wrinkle that hitters have to worry about.
"The slider is getting there," Jordan said. "The changeup is usually almost always there so I'm not really worried about that. I was overthrowing a little bit my first inning. It just felt really good. I was just letting it go really. And everything was up for the most part (in the first inning), and I buckled down and started to keep the ball a little bit lower.
"The slider last year was hit or miss. 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."
Hopefully we won't see any more shaky legs, though.