WASHINGTON — After retiring 16 consecutive Cincinnati Reds on Saturday, Washington Nationals starter Edwin Jackson suddenly took a walk on his wild side, opening the eighth inning with a four-pitch walk.
That made Nationals manager Davey Johnson jittery. So he called down to the bullpen to have All-Star setup man Tyler Clippard warm up, and sent pitching coach Steve McCatty to the mound. Let’s listen to McCatty describe his exchange with Jackson:
“Like ‘Full Metal Jacket.’ I went and asked him: ‘How are you doing?’ 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.”
And that, essentially, was that. McCatty returned to the dugout, and Jackson returned to dominating the Reds, finishing the eighth by striking out the next three batters, and tacking on the flourish of a 1-2-3 ninth. Efficient, effective and powering fastballs in the mid-90s mph all afternoon, Jackson threw a two-hitter for his fifth career complete game, helping Washington stretch its winning streak to five by beating Cincinnati 4-1.
As the elder statesman of a starting staff that includes Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Sunday’s starter against the Reds, Ross Detwiler, the 28-year-old Jackson ran the rotation’s numbers to two runs over the past 35 innings, an ERA of 0.51.
“No one wants to be the weakest link. And when you have a staff like that, to where it’s competitive but it’s fun, it’s always great,” said Jackson (1-0), who threw a 149-pitch no-hitter with eight walks for Arizona in 2010, but needed only 92 pitches Saturday. “These guys, they put pressure on me today.”
Said Strasburg, whose next turn is Monday: “We’ve got a great chemistry in the rotation. Every single one of these guys has unbelievable ability.”
Other than a rocky second inning — when he hit a batter, gave up a double to Miguel Cairo and an RBI single to Drew Stubbs — Jackson threw, in Johnson’s word, “a gem.”
“Everything looked good. Except that when he threw the four pitches out of the strike zone, (I thought), ‘Get Clip up. Get Clip up.’ And then after he finished them off, I said, ‘Why did I get Clip up?’ But that’s the fun of coaching and managing good young talent. Good talent, period,” Johnson said.
Jackson struck out nine, including six of the last eight Reds.
“I even asked the umpire one time, ‘Man, are we that bad or is he that good?’ And he said, ‘Hey, he was that good,’” said Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker, whose team has lost five of its past six games, scoring a total of 10 runs in that span.
“Everything was moving, everything was sharp,” Baker added. “Everything looked like a fastball — and then it would be a breaking ball in the dirt. He made us look badly today.”
Jackson’s last complete game came July 16, 2011, for the Chicago White Sox against Detroit. He finished last season with the World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals, then signed a one-year free-agent deal with Washington.
Before an announced crowd of 35,489, Adam LaRoche provided a tiebreaking two-run double, Jesus Flores went 3 for 3 with an RBI while shrugging off a collision at the plate as a runner, and Jayson Werth had two hits. The NL East-leading Nationals improved to 7-2, by far their best start since moving from Montreal to Washington in 2005.
Bailey went six innings, giving up three runs and seven hits. He also walked four — two apiece in the second and third innings, when Washington did all of its scoring off him. The biggest blow was LaRoche’s drive to right-center in the third, breaking a 1-1 tie.
Accustomed to awful Aprils, and coming off an injury-shortened 2011, LaRoche added a single off reliever Sam LeCure ahead of Werth’s run-scoring double in the seventh and is now hitting .333, with team highs of two homers and 10 RBIs.
LaRoche played in only 43 games last year because of an injured left shoulder that he had surgery on in June. That still left time to hit .190 in April with 10 RBIs — a total he’s already matched after nine games in 2012. The first full month of baseball generally has been the cruelest month for LaRoche: From 2004-11, he hit .207 and averaged 10.9 RBIs in April.
“Everybody in here thinks it’s a real good, special team. We keep that up, we’re going to look up and have a lot of wins here at the end of the year,” LaRoche said. “Pitching has been phenomenal.”