Jackson Looks to Keep Rolling

Jay Jackson has shown signs of dominance on the mound since the Chicago Cubs selected him in the ninth round of the 2008 draft from Furman. Last season at Class AA Tennessee, the right-hander overcame a rough start early before hitting his stride in the middle of the season to earn Southern League All-Star honors and eventually a trip to Class AAA Iowa.

The 22-year-old Jackson finished 5-5 with a 3.70 ERA in 16 starts over 80-plus innings at Tennessee. Those numbers may not seem overly dominant, but consider that after his first three Double-A starts, Jackson had a 9.45 ERA and opponents were batting .364 off him. And also consider that he finished the season with the second best ERA of any full-season Cubs minor league starter at 2.98 overall between three affiliates and led the organization in strikeouts with 127.

Amid worries that he'd be demoted, Jackson put together a string of five straight quality starts, and seven consecutive outings without allowing more than two runs per start, and suddenly fans were starting to talk about a promotion to Triple-A.

That wouldn't come until the first week of September, and oddly enough it was only after Jackson was demoted anyway – to Class High-A Daytona. It was not for performance issues but for what the Cubs would only say were disciplinary reasons.

"There are certain things that, organizational policy-wise, we expect and we didn't feel they were being adhered to so he was sent down," said Cubs Vice President of Player Personnel Oneri Fleita. "We were all young kids once and everybody always does something a little foolish. We'll turn the page and look forward to a great 2010."

Jackson is hoping that great 2010 will start right where he left off 2009 – at Iowa. He pitched in one game there last season and made the most of it, allowing one run and five hits over six innings in a victory against Albuquerque on Sept. 6.

"I'm working with (the Iowa group in minor league spring training) as of now and hopefully I'll be on that team," Jackson said. "We've got a great group of guys here and I'm definitely ready for the challenge. Wherever they decide to put me … I'm always up for the challenge and am ready to pitch where they want me to."

Jackson proved he was up for a challenge last season after the Cubs started him in Double-A less than a year after he was drafted.

"First year out of the draft and he made the jump to Double-A, and had a real easy time of it," Fleita said. "He went out and did a great job and at the end of the year he was rewarded by pitching at Triple-A."

Although Jackson was not given a formal invitation to big league spring training over the off-season, he made two appearances in camp earlier this month. He allowed six runs and five hits over two innings and called his time there a learning experience.

"The outings I had were average at best," he said. "I walked a few people and gave up some hits that I shouldn't have, but the main thing is you've got to get ahead in the count and pound the zone and throw strikes. And you've got to make adjustments."

Jackson finished last season with 127 strikeouts to 46 walks and said he has spent much of this spring working on his changeup.

"Other than that everything has been pretty good (pitch-wise)," Jackson said. "The fastball is coming out of my hand pretty well and everything else is, too. The main thing I'm trying to work on is making sure I'm getting ahead in the count to help make sure my team wins games."

A good part of Jackson's off-season included time at an athletes' compound near Tampa, Fla. He also spent a few weeks in the instructional league working on fielding his position and holding runners.

Now with the season starting a little over two weeks, he's ready for 2010 and building on his work from a season ago.

"I'm just looking forward to seeing what happens, and just keep it going and keep doing the same things: giving my team a chance to win wherever I'm at, throwing strikes and trying to get a championship somewhere, somehow."

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