BALTIMORE -- Nationals manager Davey Johnson said Edwin Jackson wasn't feeling well prior to his start Saturday night. Not that Jackson was ill, but that the right-hander just felt his stuff wasn't at its best.
Turns out, that's when Jackson might be at his best.
Jackson carried a perfect game into the fifth inning and didn't need much help from his offense in a 3-1 win against the Orioles at Oriole Park. Jackson entered the weekend receiving the second-lowest run support among Nationals starters, but on a night when he wasn't even at his best, he proved how talented this Nationals rotation can be.
"Edwin didn't feel too good when he started the game, but he was keeping the ball down when he didn't feel good," Johnson said. "... For six innings, he was just unbelievably good."
Jackson went 6 1/3 innings, allowing one run on four hits. He struck out five while walking just one, through the Orioles were able to get his pinch count up to 96 after tough innings in the fifth and seventh.
"You just know you can't really afford to get behind in the count too much," Jackson said of when he knows his best pitches aren't there. "The days you don't have your best stuff, you know you have to come at them early and be able to throw offspeed for strikes."
All the offense Jackson needed came early, as the Nats scored two runs in the second inning after Michael Morse and Adam LaRoche hit back-to-back singles to open the frame. Two outs later, Xavier Nady slapped a grounder to third baseman Wilson Betemit, whose throw bounced wide of first baseman Mark Reynolds. Morse and LaRoche both scored, while Betemit notched his 10th error of the season.
In the fourth, LaRoche hit his 13th homer of the season, a solo shot to right-center.
Jackson retired the first 12 Orioles he faced before Adam Jones sent a tough grounder toward Ryan Zimmerman at third base. Zimmerman was unable to corral it and was given his fourth error of the season, ending Jackson's perfect-game bid. Two batters later, Jackson allowed his first hit of the game, a single by Betemit that sent Jones to third. Jackson struck out Reynolds, but walked Nick Johnson on five pitches to load the bases. He escaped unscathed, though, as Steve Pearce blooped a high pop fly to Ian Desmond at short.
"Edwin threw a great game," Jones said. "I was just texting him just now. He threw a really great game, and sometimes you just got to tip your cap to the man. That slider of his, he kept it down, he didn't hang it too much, and he did what he wanted to do."
After setting Baltimore down in order during the sixth, Jackson labored in the seventh. Jones led off the inning with a shot to left field that barely stayed above the fence as it inched past the foul pole for his 19th homer of the season. After Matt Wieters flied out to deep center, Betemit poked a single to left field. Reynolds followed with another, giving the Orioles runners on first and second with one out.
Left-hander Mike Gonzalez came in to face Ronny Paulino, who was pinch-hitting for Johnson. After working the count full, Paulino ripped a liner up the middle -- but straight to Desmond, who stepped on second to easily double up Betemit and end the inning.
Sean Burnett came in for the eighth inning and allowed one hit, while Tyler Clippard earned his 12th save with a perfect ninth inning.
Ultimately, the win boils back down to Jackson's early brilliance. At 28 years old, Jackson is the oldest of the Nationals' starters, a testament to the payoff the organization's youth movement is providing. After Saturday's start, the Nats have four starters with ERAs below 3.00, as Jackson's settled at 2.91.
"It's unbelievable," Johnson said. "If you even count [Ross Detwiler] in there, guys that have [less than a hit] per inning is unbelievable. Tells you just how good they've been going, so I'm impressed. And I'm not easily impressed."
Mike Fiammetta is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.