- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 22, 2012

VIERA, Fla. — As Edwin Jackson threw his first bullpen session of the season Wednesday, Washington Nationals’ pitching coach Steve McCatty watched him closely. Alerted by McCatty, manager Davey Johnson made his way toward catcher Wilson Ramos as one of Jackson’s pitches hummed past.

“Can you see the seams?” Johnson asked Ramos, taking in the view of Jackson from his catcher’s perspective. He could.

When Jackson pitched out of the windup, the ball was becoming visible as he separated it from his glove hand, ever so slightly, before his left leg kicked up to hide it.

It may be the reason the Nationals felt Jackson tipped his pitches out of the windup in the past. In fact, upon signing Jackson to a one-year deal earlier this month, tweaking that delivery to get it more uniform with the one he uses out of the stretch was one of the first things Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo discussed.

“His windup and his stretch is a little bit different,” Johnson said. “And I did notice it from the windup that he did show more ball and position of the ball. It wasn’t real obvious…. Hitters, we try to pick up pitches…. and that’s why I think there was a differential in what hitters hit against him in the windup as opposed to in the stretch. It could have been the problem.”

Ramos said later that in the 10-minute session he caught, the difference between Jackson’s windup and his stretch deliveries was minimal.

“A little thing was different,” he said, “But he can fix it.”

In truth, Jackson’s windup delivery is in the midst of a major makeover. In 2011, batters hit Jackson at a .339 clip when the bases were empty. With men on, though, that number dropped to .239. To take it one step further, Jackson was at his best with two or more runners on base, never allowing opponents to hit above .190 in those situations.

It prompted the power righty to alter things dramatically at midseason, scrapping the delivery in which he brought his arms above his head to start his motion. When he was doing that, Johnson said, the ball would become visible as he separated closer to his chest. Bringing his hands low was the first step toward better deceptiveness, but he’s still working out the kinks.

“It’s still in a transition stage,” Jackson said. “Now I have a chance to really work on it.”

Changing things on the fly as Jackson did, as he went from the Chicago White Sox to the World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals, is complicated. It wasn’t until this offseason that he felt he could work exclusively on his mechanics to help “simplify the delivery and keep everything quiet.”

The Nationals faced Jackson once in 2011, a wild 9-4 win in 14 innings over the White Sox that featured the ejection of interim manager John McLaren one day after Jim Riggleman resigned the post. Jackson dueled with Jordan Zimmermann for seven innings, holding the Nationals to three hits. Second baseman Danny Espinosa remembered the game well — but didn’t recall anything about Jackson tipping his pitches.

“There are certain guys who are just harder to hit out of the stretch than the windup,” Espinosa said. “I don’t remember anybody saying he tips. I thought he was really good.”

There were times in years past when Jackson’s slight slip may not have been signaled out as a possible weakness but, as Johnson noted, with video so specialized now, it’s become something more prevalent. Either way, it’s something they’ll continue to work with this spring as Jackson becomes more comfortable with his delivery.

“I think it’s more important today than it may have been a number of years ago because video plays such a big part in it now,” Johnson said. “Even guys who aren’t used to picking that up, you go in that video room and you move it through one frame at a time, hell, [you’ll see it].”

Notes: Right-hander Henry Rodriguez is the only pitcher who has yet to report to camp, but Johnson said they expected him to report Wednesday as long as he made his flight. His absence is excused due to a personal matter…. Mark DeRosa also checked into camp Wednesday, meaning Xavier Paul is the only position player who hasn’t reported. Thursday is the first day positions players are required to check in.

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