Jackson Re-Inventing Himself On The Mound

For most pitchers, particularly power pitchers, a four-seam fastball is a staple: the one pitch to be relied on and thrown more often than any other, gripped in the most elementary way around the horseshoe. But for Trenton Thunder reliever Steven Jackson, a self-proclaimed "sinker-slider guy," it's the four-seam fastball that has been his primary work-in-progress this season.

"I used to just be all two-seamers," Jackson said. "I'm trying to work in my four-seamer a little bit more."

In 2006, Jackson did not need to complement his sinker, slider and splitter with a four-seamer. As a starting pitcher for the Tennessee Smokies, the Arizona Diamondbacks Double-A affiliate, the right-handed Jackson was under .500 at 8-11, but he had an ERA of 2.71.

He struck out 125 and walked just 45 in 149 2/3 innings - numbers impressive enough that the New York Yankees took an interest in Jackson and acquired him as part of the Randy Johnson trade, which landed Johnson back in Arizona this offseason.

But Jackson has not been the same pitcher since. He went 4-8 in 18 games [eleven starts] for Scranton, where he opened the year. His ERA was 5.87 before he was sent to down to Trenton as a reliever.

Jackson began his career after being drafted a third time, in the 10th round of the 2004 draft out of Clemson. Last season was the first time the 6-foot-5, 215-pound 25-year-old had an ERA below three in his two seasons of pro ball. In fact, it was the first time he had an ERA below four.

Part of the problem can be that when one is not a strikeout pitcher, a lot of what happens to the ball when put in play is out of his control, rather, it is left to the defense and more simply, luck. He allowed 7.88 hits per nine innings in 2006, down from 11.63 in 2005, when he had a 5.33 ERA for Single-A South Bend.

"I don't really know what went wrong, I just didn't really pitch very well," Jackson said of his time in Scranton this year. "I can't really name one thing, just left too many balls up I guess. I feel like I threw the ball a little better than my numbers showed, but I didn't throw the ball as good as I could have. It's just the way it went, I don't know a certain reason."

What went wrong was not, Jackson said, the trade - "It's just the way things go and it's been good, I can't complain, they treat me well" — nor the move to the bullpen — "It's fine, I just want to be able to pitch" — that were bothersome.

Jackson seems to finally have gotten on track of late. His first two outings for Trenton were rough, totaling five runs in five innings. But after that, he made three consecutive hitless appearances totaling five innings.

And on Friday, Jackson lowered his ERA with Trenton to 3.72 after tossing four innings of shutout relief against New Hampshire, allowing just one hit and striking out five.

Though Jackson is not a strikeout pitcher, he said he has started to throw harder coming out of the bullpen, because of the fewer innings relievers tally. The splitter is the pitch Jackson said he turns to when he needs "to put people away."

Trenton Thunder pitching coach Scott Aldred said he believes that Jackson is well-suited for the bullpen.

"He's doing a nice job in the pen," Aldred said. "He's throwing the ball good. He's got a nice sinker and his split has been good, and a slider to go with them. He gets ground balls and should do a nice job out of the pen."

Jackson has the distinction of being traded for a likely Hall-of-Fame pitcher who made a living off strikeouts and high heat. Jackson is only now learning how to incorporate a four-seam fastball.

He is not the type of pitcher that Johnson is, but maybe if he his able to mix in a fastball and his splitter as a strikeout pitch more often, while still using his sinker, fewer balls will be put into play and his ERA will settle under three again in 2008.

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\r\n \r\n\r\n\"I used to just be all two-seamers,\" Jackson said. \"I'm trying to work in my four-seamer a little bit more.\"
\r\n
\r\nIn 2006, Jackson did not need to complement his sinker, slider and splitter with a four-seamer. As a starting pitcher for the Tennessee Smokies, the Arizona Diamondbacks Double-A affiliate, the right-handed Jackson was under .500 at 8-11, but he had an ERA of 2.71.
\r\n
\r\nHe struck out 125 and walked just 45 in 149 2/3 innings - numbers impressive enough that the New York Yankees took an interest in Jackson and acquired him as part of the Randy Johnson trade, which landed Johnson back in Arizona this\r\noffseason.
\r\n
\r\nBut Jackson has not been the same pitcher since. He went 4-8 in 18 games [eleven starts] for Scranton, where he opened the year. His ERA was 5.87 before he was sent to down to Trenton as a reliever.
\r\n
\r\nJackson began his career after being drafted a third time, in the 10th round of the 2004 draft out of Clemson. Last season was the first time the\r\n6-foot-5, 215-pound 25-year-old had an ERA below three in his two seasons of pro ball. In fact, it was the first time he had an ERA below four.
\r\n
\r\nPart of the problem can be that when one is not a strikeout pitcher, a lot of what happens to the ball when put in play is out of his control,\r\nrather, it is left to the defense and more simply, luck. He allowed 7.88 hits per nine innings in 2006, down from 11.63 in 2005, when he had a 5.33\r\nERA for Single-A South Bend.
\r\n
\r\n\"I don't really know what went wrong, I just didn't really pitch very well,\" Jackson said of his time in Scranton this year. \"I can't really name one thing, just left too many balls up I guess. I feel like I threw the ball a little better than my numbers showed, but I didn't throw the ball as good as I could have. It's just the way it went, I don't know a certain reason.\"
\r\n
\r\nWhat went wrong was not, Jackson said, the trade - \"It's just the way things go and it's been good, I can't complain, they treat me well\" — nor the move\r\nto the bullpen — \"It's fine, I just want to be able to pitch\" — that were bothersome.
\r\n
\r\nJackson seems to finally have gotten on track of late. His first two outings for Trenton were rough, totaling five runs in five innings. But\r\nafter that, he made three consecutive hitless appearances totaling five\r\ninnings.
\r\n
\r\nAnd on Friday, Jackson lowered his ERA with Trenton to 3.72 after tossing four innings of shutout relief against New Hampshire, allowing just one hit and striking out five.
\r\n
\r\nThough Jackson is not a strikeout pitcher, he said he has started to throw harder coming out of the bullpen, because of the fewer innings relievers\r\ntally. The splitter is the pitch Jackson said he turns to when he needs \"to put people away.\"
\r\n
\r\nTrenton Thunder pitching coach Scott Aldred said he believes that Jackson is well-suited for the bullpen.
\r\n
\r\n\"He's doing a nice job in the pen,\" Aldred said. \"He's throwing the ball good. He's got a nice sinker and his split has been good, and a slider to go with them. He gets ground balls and should do a nice job out of the pen.\"
\r\n
\r\nJackson has the distinction of being traded for a likely Hall-of-Fame pitcher who made a living off strikeouts and high heat. Jackson is only\r\nnow learning how to incorporate a four-seam fastball.
\r\n
\r\nHe is not the type of pitcher that Johnson is, but maybe if he his able to mix in a fastball and his\r\nsplitter as a strikeout pitch more often, while still using his sinker, fewer balls will be put into play and his ERA will settle under three again in 2008.
\r\n
\r\n

\r\n \r\n \r\n \r\n\r\n
\r\n

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\r\n

\r\n

Become an annual subscriber today!

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