WASHINGTON -- The Nationals received another well-pitched game on Saturday. This time it came from right-hander Edwin Jackson, who helped Washington defeat the Reds, 4-1, at Nationals Park.
Washington has now won five consecutive games and is off to a 7-2 start, the best mark since the franchise moved to the nation's capital.
Entering the game, Jackson knew the bullpen needed a break, as Washington relievers pitched six shutout innings the night before in a 2-1 victory in 13 innings.
Jackson gave the bullpen the rest it needed by tossing a complete game -- his first of the season and fifth of his career -- in his home debut, allowing one run on two hits. He struck out nine and walked one, throwing 67 of his 92 pitches for strikes.
"Once you get later in the game ... it's always important for the starter to go as long as he can, and help those guys who will be there for you at the end of the year," Jackson said.
Reliever Ryan Mattheus, who pitched an inning on Friday, is one guy who is pleased that Jackson gave him a breather.
"It was huge," Mattheus said. "He saved it a bunch. I think we had two guys that haven't thrown on back-to-back days or didn't throw last night. When you have that happen and you give us a blow, it's big for us. So we'll have everybody fresh tomorrow. Everybody has a day off, and I think he knew that. He saved us big time."
Jackson became the second member of the Nationals -- Pedro Astacio is the other -- to allow two or fewer hits in a complete-game win. Jackson hinted that Saturday's performance may have ranked better than the no-hitter he threw against the Rays on June 25, 2010, while with the Diamondbacks. In that game, Jackson threw 149 pitches.
"It's especially good with the amount of pitches that I had," Jackson said about Saturday's game. "During the duration of the game, it's always a positive when you can go through the game and still be efficient with pitches. Normally, I would be well over 100 to do that."
The only time Jackson was in serious trouble was in the second inning, when he allowed an RBI single to Drew Stubbs. After that, Jackson retired the next 16 hitters he faced.
"We've never seen him that fine," Reds manager Dusty baker said. "Usually he has a wild period in there some place, but he didn't have that at all today. I even asked the umpire one time, 'Are we that bad or is he that good?' He said, 'Hey, he was that good.' He said everything was moving. He was sharp. Everything looked like a fastball, and then it would be a breaking ball in the dirt. He made us look badly today."
Late in the game, Nationals manager Davey Johnson acknowledged that he was getting nervous as Jackson kept dealing.
"When I'm seeing a gem and we need it, lights out, it makes me nervous," Johnson said. "I usually don't get nervous. But when you see something like that -- he had a low pitch count, just a dominating game -- from a manager's standpoint, you don't want anything to go wrong. You kind of protect against all contingencies. You are all wound up. It couldn't come at a better time."
In the eighth inning, Jackson walked Chris Heisey, and pitching coach Steve McCatty went to the mound to check on his righty, who made it clear that he was going to finish the game.
"[McCatty] pretty much said, 'It's your game. Just get these people out. Throw every pitch with conviction,'" Jackson said.
Dating back to Ross Detwiler's start against the Mets on Tuesday, Nationals starters have allowed two runs in 35 innings. Jackson acknowledged that there is competition with the rotation.
"They made it hard on me. Nobody wants to be the weakest link," Jackson said about the rotation. "Everybody is just fighting for the top step, but it is a lot of fun, though. This pitching staff right here wants to give our team enough motivation to when we go out, we are going to try to win every game. It makes them exciting to play around us."
After the second inning, the Nationals gave Jackson enough runs to win his first game of the year. With Homer Bailey on the mound, Washington tied the score at 1 in the bottom of the second, when Jesus Flores singled to center, scoring Jayson Werth.
In the next inning, Adam LaRoche untied the score when he doubled to right-center field, scoring Danny Espinosa and Ryan Zimmerman.
The Nationals added to their lead in the seventh inning off right-hander Sam Lecure. With one out, Werth doubled to score Espinosa.
That was all plenty for Jackson, who kept his eye on the bigger picture as he reflected on his performance.
"A game like today, I was able to give the [bullpen] a rest, said Jackson. "They will be good and fresh for tomorrow."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.