Learning curve for Jackson growing

Jackson's learning curve growing

ST. PETERSBURG -- Manager Joe Maddon is a firm believer in learning the hard way.

That's why Maddon is confident Edwin Jackson's struggles last season (5-15 with a 5.76 ERA in 32 games) will help mold the 24-year-old into a more consistent, focused pitcher this season.

After winning a spot in the rotation last year, Jackson's mediocre season has him battling again, as he is competing primarily with Andy Sonnanstine and Jason Hammel for the two remaining spots.

Jackson's performance on Wednesday was certainly impressive, as the righty retired the first 11 Phillies hitters. In fact, it was downright perfect until Jackson clipped Chris Snelling with a slider in the fourth.

"It was a nice quick pace, keeping our defense on their feet," Jackson said.

Maddon agreed, citing Jackson's performance as his "best outing to date" and praising the location of his pitches.

While the Rays have been adamant during Spring Training about each pitcher keeping the ball down, control is an issue Jackson has continually struggled with. After walking four batters in five innings in Friday's outing, Jackson buckled down on Wednesday, striking out seven and allowing only one walk.

He held Philadelphia scoreless until the fifth, when Geoff Jenkins doubled down the left-field line. Unfettered, Jackson responded with back-to-back strikeouts of Pedro Feliz and Casey Smith.

Jackson still believes he has a long way to go before the Opening Day series, which starts on March 31 in Baltimore.

"I don't think anyone is where they want to be," Jackson said. "You see what you need to work on [during Spring Training], so hopefully everything will be right in place."

As for his own place in the Rays' starting rotation, experience has been a good teacher. When asked about his Spring Training performances, Jackson is quick to point out that he had a great spring last season before stumbling out of the gate. His focus this spring has been on improvement.

"I'm definitely getting my work in these last couple starts," said Jackson. "I've never really been one to worry about what's going on [in the rotation], I don't worry about that. I just take things as they come to me."

Spring Training
News and features:
Multimedia:
• Chastain on Longoria, Aybar  400K
• Yanks-Rays incident  400K
• Spring Spotlight: Rays  400K
• Shields on his contract  400K
Spring Training info:
MLB.com coverage  |  Schedule  |  Ballpark  |  Tickets

But perhaps the biggest indicator of what Jackson may become came in the beginning of the sixth inning, after Jackson surrendered two doubles in the fifth to put the Rays in a 1-0 hole.

The righty retired the first two batters, neither by strikeout, allowing the defense to make the plays. It sounds simple, but the "pitch-to-contact" mentality, which puts the ball in play, is a tough concept for Jackson.

This year, free of the feeling that he had to "strike out everyone," Maddon says Jackson's execution will be crucial.

"What I'm looking at is before the pitch is thrown, he's focused on throwing the pitch," Maddon said. "He still gets to the point where he's a little antsy, but he's better at controlling his emotions. I just want him to focus on that pitch, one pitch at a time."

And with an unknown timetable on No. 1 pitcher Scott Kazmir, even more questions have begun to surround the Rays' rotation and pitching options.

For now, Jackson says he is content not knowing the answers.

"I'm just worried about what I can control," he said. "And [I'll] let everything else take care of its place."

Brittany Ghiroli is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.