Jackson Getting More Comfortable

Jay Jackson would just as soon forget about his first three starts at Class AA Tennessee. In them, the right-hander and Chicago Cubs pitching prospect allowed 14 earned runs in 13 1/3 innings for a 9.45 ERA. Since then, Jackson has turned in three solid outings, including a pair of seven-inning gems.

Over his last three starts, Jackson has lowered his ERA to 4.59 – his lowest mark of the season. He has recorded 19 strikeouts over 20 innings in that span.

In his most recent start for Tennessee on May 13 against West Tennessee, Jackson went six innings and surrendered two runs and five hits, striking out five batters.

The Smokies won, 3-2, but Jackson and Tennessee manager Ryne Sandberg both said that despite an otherwise respectable start, it wasn't the young hurler's best performance.

"Jackson gave us a nice quality start," Sandberg said. "He's been racking up quality starts now. Not quite his best command, but still his stuff was good."

Jackson said it was all about keeping his team in the game. The big thing for the 21-year-old pitcher, taken by the Cubs in the ninth-round of the 2008 draft from Furman, is that he feels more comfortable (and confident) since starting the season in a jam, he said.

"I got more comfortable and just started feeling better," Jackson said. "I got my mechanics down finally and that's pretty much the biggest thing. I'm using my legs a lot more and am getting the ball down in the zone."

A season ago, Jackson made 13 appearances, including five starts, between Class Low A Boise, Class A Peoria and Class High A Daytona. He was 4-2 with a 2.88 ERA and 72 strikeouts to 13 walks in 50 innings. This season, he has allowed 13 walks and 34 hits in 33 1/3 innings for a .268 average against.

Jackson has learned the hard way that Double-A hitters are more polished than some of the competition he faced a year ago in his pro debut season.

"It seems like a lot of hitters in Double-A are more aggressive early in the count, so you throw strikes early and make them put the ball in play," Jackson said. "But if you're not throwing strikes, it leads you to walk people and all of a sudden it's two different things. They take a lot of good pitches up here compared to Daytona and Peoria, where they swing at a lot of ‘miss' pitches."

But Jackson has been adapting and has shown improvement recently. He allowed one run and four hits back on April 29 against the Carolina Mudcats for his first win, and he followed that up with seven shutout innings against the Mississippi Braves on May 7, tossing a complete game five-hitter and racking up 10 strikeouts.

In spite of the challenges, Jackson says he enjoys pitching at Double-A, and that things are starting to click for him.

"I feel a lot better with everything's that's going on now," Jackson said. "It's not so much a different level; I'm just comfortable now and feeling good. Everything is clicking for me now instead of being stressed out and worrying about what's going to happen."

Jackson has four pitches in his arsenal to work with – a four-seam fastball, plus a sinker, changeup and slider. In most of his starts, he has stuck to his fastball.

"I've just been working my fastball a lot. That's been the big thing," Jackson said. "Against [Mississippi], I only threw fastball and slider the whole game. I threw 12 sliders and 71 fastballs, so I've just been locating my fastball and getting ahead early in the count."

In the start against West Tennessee, Jackson threw roughly 80 pitches; 60 fastballs. Fastballs are a big part of every pitcher's game, and Jackson says he's relied on his to try and get his season turned around.

"Fastballs are just a big key to what I do," Jackson said. "Fastballs are the key to I'd say any pitcher and just locating that, and that's what I've been doing lately."

His changeup continues to be a work-in-progress, but Jackson said he's been pleased with its results in his last three outings, which include two wins and a no-decision.

"I've been working my changeup in a lot. It's been getting a lot of outs for me actually," Jackson said. "(Facing) a lot of the hitters at this level, a changeup is a great pitch to have. Having them see that fastball and then throwing a changeup up there, it's a great pitch to have. I've been working it in and have been kind of excited with the way it's been working lately."

Jackson said he's looking for more consistency with all of his pitches. He'll need that to justify being moved on to the next level.

"I want to get more consistent with all my pitches, so I can make that jump either to Triple-A or the big league team," he said. "I want to make that jump, but I feel I'm not as consistent as I should be in hitting my spots, so I need to work on that.

"But Double-A is a good time to make sure you have your stuff down because a lot of the people we face now are the people we're going to face later on."

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