- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 14, 2012

They came to their feet at Nationals Park for Edwin Jackson on Saturday evening. They rose after he finished the seventh inning, a streak of 16 straight batters retired intact. And when he walked off the mound following the eighth, when he’d retired the last five via strikeout.

The 35,489 in attendance went wild when Jackson was allowed to hit for himself in the bottom of the eighth and cheered all the way through his seven-pitch ninth. “Instant adrenaline,” the right-hander called it.

In the Nationals’ 4-1 victory over the Cincinnati Reds, Jackson completed nine innings with just 92 pitches. He allowed two hits, walked one batter and struck out nine. In a string of starting pitching performances so dominant the starting staff had allowed just one run in its last 25 innings entering the game, Jackson did them all one better.

“I haven’t been that nervous in a long time,” said Nationals manager Davey Johnson, who has watched his starting pitchers work to a 0.51 ERA in their last 35 innings. “I talked to Edwin. I said, ‘Man, I was nervous.’ He said, ‘Well, Skip, I wasn’t.’”

After seven innings, Jackson had thrown 66 pitches and hadn’t allowed a baserunner since the second inning. But when he walked the first batter of the eighth inning on four pitches, Johnson promptly sent pitching coach Steve McCatty out to chat.

“This is your game,” McCatty told him. “Do you want this?”

The seemingly always-relaxed right-hander, working with a three-run lead, offered a simple, ‘Yes.’

“Well, if you want it, tell me you want it,” McCatty said, joking later that he felt like the drill sergeant from the movie “Full Metal Jacket.”

“I want it,” Jackson told him.

Tyler Clippard began warming in the Nationals’ bullpen, a contingency plan in case Jackson’s brief bout of wildness persisted.

Jackson struck out the next three batters he faced — all swinging.

“After he finished them off, I said, ‘Why did I get Clip up?’” Johnson said. “But that’s the fun of coaching and managing good young talent. Good talent period.”

Jackson, who hasn’t iced his seemingly rubber right arm since 2003, was still pumping 95-mph fastballs to the Reds hitters in the ninth inning. “That’s when you know you’re good,” quipped first baseman Adam LaRoche.

The only hits Jackson surrendered were in the second inning: Miguel Cairo, who doubled, scored on Drew Stubbs’ single to left field. He held the first four batters in the Reds‘ lineup 0-for-15 — including an 0-for-4 for first baseman Joey Votto. And that lone run became a moot point with catcher Jesus Flores, LaRoche and right fielder Jayson Werth all driving in runs for him.

After the second inning, his slider started working more. His curveball was sharp, and eventually, he found a feel for his fastball — helping him rack up six strikeouts in the game’s final three innings. It wasn’t the most dominant pitching performance LaRoche had seen, he said, but that honor went to the same man. LaRoche was the first baseman for Jackson with the Arizona Diamondbacks when he threw a 149-pitch no-hitter over the Tampa Bay Rays.

But given that the only starter to even surrender a run through the last turn through the Nationals’ rotation  was Jordan Zimmermann on Friday night, Jackson was still the best of the last five days.

“No one wants to be the weakest link,” Jackson said, knowing, without any instruction that he also had to help save a bullpen that required six innings and five relievers in the 13-inning win the night before. “These guys, they put pressure on me today.”

“That’s what happens on all good staffs,” Johnson said. “They all kind of peer pressure. ‘You threw a good one, I’m going to throw a better one.’”

As he walked off the mound Saturday, the crowd still showering him with adulation, Jackson stood in front of the seventh dugout he’s called home to conduct a post-game interview. Behind him, his catchers snuck up to give him a celebratory Gatorade bath. Their team had just won its fifth straight game and sat in first place in the National League East at 7-2.

“Everybody in here thinks it’s a real good, special team,” LaRoche said. “And the pitching has just been phenomenal. … We keep that up, we’re going to look up and have a lot of wins here at the end of the year.”

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