By Michael Guzman/Indianapolis Indians
As Jay Jackson strode to the mound at Harbor Park, things were very different from his previous four trips to the bump. And yet, in Jackson’s mind at least, everything was the same – Just another outing on that oh-so-familiar mound rubber, where from Boise to Peoria, Daytona, Tennessee, Iowa, Jacksonville, New Orleans and now Indianapolis, that slab on the mound has always remained a comfortable 24-by-6 inches.
“All you can do every day is just come in and be yourself,” the well-traveled Jackson said of his daily approach as a utility arm both in relief and as a starter. “You come in and have a smile on your face, not let anything carry over (from the previous outing). Just enjoy the time that you have with these guys (in the clubhouse) and enjoy the time that you have playing baseball, because it doesn’t last forever.”
Along the way to his most recent stop in the circle city, the 26-year-old said his career has included many roles, promotions and demotions. Even as recently as the beginning of this year has seen a complete 180-degree swap in Jackson’s usage, with the right-hander transitioning from a shut-down closer in the Mexican Winter League, to an every-fifth-day starter in the regular season with Triple-A Indianapolis. The ever-present uncertainty is just part of the game, Jackson suggested, so with his pitching role in a constant state of flux, his own, personal attitude has always remained unchanged:
Happiness achieved through victory.
“Any role I’m in, I really feel comfortable doing it,” Jackson said. “It’s just (my) approach and that I’m enjoying baseball and having fun doing what I’m doing; going out and just getting outs.”
Jackson’s approach was tested during the early goings of the 2014 campaign. As part of his Indians – and Pittsburgh Pirates organization, for that matter – debut, the right-hander surrendered eight earned runs over his first 3.1 innings of action. The pair of appearances included tough outings both in relief and out of the Tribe’s rotation.
“At the beginning of the year I felt like I was worried more about my mechanics,” Jackson recalled of his rocky debut. “[I should have been] going out there and just playing baseball and just letting everything happen the way it should.”
Jackson returned to action a few days later and began to settle back into his normal routine. He cut his ERA in half through two relief outings in mid-April, and even picked up his first win of the campaign with a scoreless 11th inning in Louisville.
Three consecutive starts later, in one of which he authored his first quality start of the year, Jackson further lowered his ERA to a 7.33 mark with the calendar flipping to May. He was in a place of clarity amid the obscurity of bouncing between a five-day rotation and an “on-call” spot in the bullpen.
Undeterred, Jackson plowed through the first two months with his new organization, and after shaking off a four-run appearance on May 9, rebounded with five straight scoreless appearances over 10.2 innings from May 15 through the end of the month.
“It’s a little different here (with the Pirates organization), where I was [starting for the majority of the season last year in Miami’s organization] and now coming back to the ‘pen,” Jackson said after finding success from his adjustment to the new organization. “(The staff and I) have just worked on little things where I can possibly get more groundball outs and quicker outs. Then I can go deeper in games.”
After continuing to impress out of the Indy bullpen, Jackson once again received an opportunity to move back into the starting rotation. And this time, the results were outstanding:
In three consecutive starts, Jackson held the opposition to just three total runs through a combined 16.0 innings pitched, picking up two wins while registering a stellar 1.69 ERA in the process. On the immediate success, Jackson stated simply, “Just going back to just being comfortable; it wasn’t certain things mechanically… just me just being comfortable at what I was doing and having confidence in what I was doing. Just going back to just attacking hitters.”
But as Jackson would soon recall, attacking hitters can potentially backfire – as was the case just one start later.
Facing top-ranked Durham, a strong team that was leading the International League in doubles, Jackson was shelled for five runs (2 ER) while recoding just two outs on 33 pitches. The right-hander would then make a temporary return to the bullpen where he faced the decision of dwelling on his mishaps, or dialing into his attacking-hitters attitude to once again bounce back.
“You have to be able to (forget mistakes) in any competition, no matter what it is.” Jackson, a two-sport star in high school, explains. “From playing pick-up basketball or playing organized baseball, or playing football or playing any other sport that you can name…you have to have a short memory.”
Jackson will now make tonight’s start having tossed an Indians season high-tying 12.2 consecutive scoreless frames since that Durham outing. The unshakable utility arm shut out the Norfolk Tides in back-to-back relief appearances on June 20 (4.0 IP) and June 23 (3.0 IP), before blanking tonight’s opponent through a 5.2-inning start in his most recent outing on June 28.
While he constantly adapts his style to his ongoing ‘pitching limbo’ of sorts, Jackson is unchanged in his commitment to doing not only what makes him comfortable, but also what he does best –
Achieving happiness through victory.