Jackson Only Looking Ahead

NEW ORLEANS – Cubs pitching prospect Jay Jackson wanted to prove to others that he could compete at every level. To do that, he first had to prove it to himself.

After an undisclosed incident in the middle of last season sent Jackson from Class AA Tennessee to High-A Daytona for disciplinary reasons, the 2008 ninth-round draft pick is meeting the Cubs' expectations in the starting rotation for Triple-A Iowa.

Jackson made his fifth start on Thursday, allowing just one run and three hits over six innings. He got a no-decision in Iowa's 2-1 loss to New Orleans.

So far, the 22-year-old Jackson has made a relatively seamless transition to Triple-A after spending most of 2009 at Tennessee, where he was 5-5 with a 3.70 ERA in 16 starts. He now has a 2.31 ERA in 35 innings this season, having allowed eight walks and 22 hits for a .180 average against.

"Spotting my fastball, having confidence in myself," Jackson said when asked about the biggest reasons for his success. "Really it's just getting ahead in the counts (and) making sure I get control of my fastball because it's the one pitch I can always rely on. It's the pitch that starts the games off and dominates the games."

Jackson retired the first seven batters he faced in Thursday's game at Zephyr Field and did not allow a hit until the fourth inning. He threw 88 pitches, 56 strikes.

Jackson struck out two batters and walked one.

"Basically what he's learning how to do here is mix his pitches," Iowa pitching coach Mike Mason said. "If you look at his pitch counts, they're probably way lower than they were last year. He's inducing contact and understanding that changing speeds is just as important. In the big leagues, nobody strikes out 10 people very often.

"But if you walk none and strike out three, they're very happy and that's kind of how he's been doing lately. He's been making contact and we're trying to get more groundballs out of him, but he's a work in progress and he's got the best stuff here."

One reason Jackson's strikeout totals aren't as high is because the Furman alum's main goal is not necessarily to strike batters out, but to go deeper into games. He's done a good job to that end, averaging six innings per start this season.

"I feel I have the stuff to strike people out, but it's harder to go deeper into games when you strike guys out, and I found that out last year," the right-hander says.

"I had some high strikeout totals, but I had some high pitch counts. Coming up here, these (hitters) are more veteran and they take a lot of pitches, so it's about making them put balls in play and letting them get themselves out."

As for whatever Jackson did to run afoul of the Cubs' front office, it hasn't deterred him. Jackson responded to the club's decision to demote him last season by posting a 1.64 ERA in seven starts for Daytona.

Jackson said the demotion served as a chance to reevaluate some things.

"It made me figure out that baseball is what I want to do," he said. "It's a gift to be able to come out and play baseball for a job, especially at the age I'm at. There are not a lot of guys doing this. It definitely made me hungrier and it made me want to prove to a lot of people and to myself that I can pitch at any level and be great at what I'm doing."

Now there's only one more level left for Jackson to pitch at: the majors. On that front, being invited to big league spring training last March has only helped fuel his fire.

"Pitching in spring training, it taught me a lot of things," Jackson said. "It taught me you can't overpower guys in the big leagues. I had some subpar outings where I wish I could have done better, and I had some decent outings where I proved I can pitch against these guys.

"All in all, it was a great experience. It's just a learning process right now. I'm trying to get up there as fast as I can and help the team win up there, just as I'm trying to do with the team here."

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