The Washington Times - March 8, 2012, 05:36PM

VIERA, Fla. — Forget all about the mechanics. Forget tipping your pitches or showing the ball or separating your hands too early. Forget thinking. Just be an athlete. 

That was Nationals pitching coach Steve McCatty’s message to Edwin Jackson after his first spring training start. Jackson threw two scoreless innings against the Houston Astros last Saturday but he was a little erratic, walking two and throwing just 12 of his 28 pitches for strikes. 

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Thursday, in the Nationals’ 8-0 victory over the Astros, Jackson was a different pitcher.

“It felt better than last time, definitely,” Jackson said of the four scoreless innings where he allowed two hits (singles) and struck out three. “I was able to go out and find a rhythm early.”

So how, after whittling away on his mechanics, working through a completely revamped wind-up delivery that he began changing in the middle of the 2011 season, did he find that rhythm on Thursday?

“Who knows,” he said. “When you’re going good, you really don’t know what it is. When you’re going good, you just know you’re going good. Something just clicked and whatever mechanics I had, I was just able to repeat them and throw pitches across the plate.”

Jackson was, in the words of manager Davey Johnson, “superb.”

He switched from a modified windup delivery, which Johnson described as “almost in the stretch position” as he got the signs, to one in which both of his feet were on the rubber Thursday and kept his hands higher. He was fluid, making quick work of the Astros in a game that last just two hours and 23 minutes, and handing the ball over to Ross Detwiler after a 1-2-3 fourth.

“He was as good as it gets,” Johnson said. “(McCatty’s) been telling him, ‘Just go relax, do what feels comfortable.’ If that was comfortable, I liked everything I saw… He was perfect, as far as I’m concerned.”

Jackson has just six spring innings under his belt and while he’s yet to surrender a run, he’s aware that the results in spring training aren’t really all that reliable. In the past two springs, Jackson has come out with an ERA of 5.32 or higher and stat lines littered with hits and walks. In 2011, though Jackson struck out 20 batters in 19 1/3 spring innings (which isn’t really relatable here but I thought it was pretty notable.)

Last year, his regular-season ERA was 3.79, markedly lower than his spring mark of 5.59.

“Me and spring, it’s kind of deceptive,” Jackson said. “You really don’t want to have great springs. Spring training, a lot of the time you’re still working off rust. You’re still working on things. A lot of times, it’s not necessarily about results. It’s how you feel. You can feel great and go out and give up 12 runs at the time, but if you leave out of spring training going good into the season, that’s pretty much what it’s all about.”