Jay Jackson is on the Fast Track

DES MOINES -- Since being drafted in the ninth round of the 2008 draft, Jay Jackson has been on the move through the Cubs organization and is now with his fifth club at Class AAA Iowa.

"It hasn't been much of an adjustment; just going out there and playing hard and just having fun, just like I would in college," said Jackson.

Jackson leads the Pacific Coast League in WHIP (0.98) and is sixth in ERA (2.90) while seeing action both as a starter and a reliever this season with Iowa.

"He's done everything he's needed to do up to this point to develop, now he just needs innings," Iowa pitching coach Mike Mason said of Jackson.

The 22-year-old right-hander has been adapting to Triple-A by working on his command, especially with his fastball.

"Commanding the fastball has just been key with everything," said Jackson. "It doesn't matter how hard you throw, it's just getting people out and making them make themselves get out. And just spotting up pitches where you know it is going to be tough for them to put the ball in play hard."

Mason says the one pitch that usually fails a pitcher at the big league level is the command of his fastball. If a batter doesn't think the pitcher can go both sides of the plate with his fastball, he will just look to the side he knows the pitcher can.

"He's (Jackson) basically been locating his fastballs to both sides of the plate, keeping hitters off stride," said Mason. "That's basically been the focus on his development -- not to get chase strikes, but to throw strikes with any pitch at any time."

Jackson also throws a slider, changeup, and curveball in addition to his fastball.

"Up to this point, he's been able to ‘out-stuff' guys and he's having to work a little bit harder in Triple-A right now because he's facing a little bit more experienced hitters that are laying off some pitches that in Double-A and Single-A, they were swinging at," said Mason.

Jackson is learning how to pitch backward instead of forward at Iowa.

Pitching forward is when a pitcher delivers fastballs to a hitter to start off a count and then throws breaking balls in the dirt to get the hitter chasing. Pitching backwards is the exact opposite; the pitcher starts off with a few breaking balls and then sports a fastball to get the strikeout.

"He'd never been pushed to do that (pitch backward) and he's been pushed to do that here, and he's done a great job," said Mason.

"I feel great with all my pitches right now, it's just tweaks here and there that I need to work on," said Jackson. "And trusting myself more and more each time I go out and having fun with it."

When Jackson was moved to the bullpen on May 9, it was not because he was struggling as a starter, but to add versatility to his game.

"You can use Mitch Atkins as an example. He's a starter down here and then he gets called up and he's a reliever there," said Mason. "Jay has never done that (pitch in both roles) in pro ball so it was to acclimate him.

Mason said the move to the bullpen was also to see if Jackson could command his stuff while only going one inning as opposed to five or six.

"It wasn't a huge adjustment (going to relief)," said Jackson. "It was fun actually to just go out there and see what I could do out of the bullpen."

In six relief appearances, Jackson compiled a 2-0 record and a 1.17 ERA.

"Like I like to say, he passed the test," said Mason. "And now he's got to go back, at 22 years old, and develop. That's basically what he's doing as a starter."

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