Via South Carolina’s “The Item” –
Relief pitcher Steven Jackson’s bid to make the Opening Day roster for the New York Yankees has fallen short.
But the former Sumter resident certainly left an impression before being optioned to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
“He’s been successful in every situation we’ve put him in, whether it’s to start an inning, whether it’s to throw a couple of innings or whether it’s to come in in the middle of an inning,” New York manager Joe Girardi said Sunday before the Yankees played the Tampa Bay Rays. “We told him, you know, just keep doing what you’re doing. There comes a point in spring training when you start running out of innings, but he had a great camp.” Jackson entered spring training as one of 25 pitchers on the 40-man roster. The 6-foot-5 right-hander, acquired in the January 2007 deal that sent veteran hurler Randy Johnson to the Arizona Diamondbacks, had no record and a 2.16 earned run average in nine appearances.
“I was real pleased,” the 27-year-old said before Sunday’s game, during which he allowed two hits and two unearned runs in 1 1/3 innings. “I’m just trying to keep pitching well, and hopefully I’ll get a chance sometime during the season.”
Last season he was 1-3 with two saves and a 5.74 ERA in 15 relief appearances for Trenton. He was 3-0 with four saves and a 3.17 ERA in 34 games, including one start, after a promotion to Scranton/Wilkes Barre.
“We put him in the bullpen, and things kind of took off for him,” New York pitching coach Dave Eiland said. “He got more consistent. His stuff actually got better for whatever reason.”
Jackson was a starter and reliever at Clemson, so the switch in roles wasn’t a stretch.
“I didn’t take it as a bad thing,” he said. “It’s just another opportunity to pitch. They’ve (Yankees staff) been at this game a long time, so if that’s where they thought I need to be, I was all for it.”
He has pitched in short, middle and long relief for the Yankees.
“We just thought his stuff fit better (in relief),” Eiland said. “He can come in with runners on base, get us a ground ball double play. He keeps the ball on the ground, he’s very economical with his pitches and he’s able to bounce back and pitch back-to-back days.”
This spring Jackson typically got two days of rest between appearances. Eiland said the Yankees staff project him to be a middle inning guy capable of throwing two to three innings, although he may toss one inning if necessary.
“We’re giving a couple of different looks, and he’s doing well in both those roles,” Eiland said. “That’s what he’s going to have to do. He can’t just be one-dimensional.”
The Yankees already have a number of right-handers in that capacity. Last year Jose Veras (60 games) and Edwar Ramirez (55 games) were workhorses, typically pitching on short rest or throwing two innings. Dan Giese threw at least two innings in a third of his 17 relief appearances.
“That doesn’t mean during the course of the season that he won’t be up to help us,” Girardi said. “We used a lot of different relievers last year. We’re not afraid to make changes if guys aren’t doing the job. We told him to be ready at any time. You never know when your time is going to come.” Jackson spent last year working on improving his slider. He’s not an overpowering thrower, his velocity reaching 92 or 93 mph, he said. Since joining the Yankees, however, he has become more effective in striking out batters. A year ago he had 54 strikeouts in 48 1/3 innings for Scranton/Wilkes Barre and 37 strikeouts in 31 1/3 innings for Trenton. He had a nearly 3-1 ratio of strikeouts to walks in 2008.
“He’s down in the zone,” Girardi said. “His breaking ball has been good, his split has been good and the location of his fastball has been good. He doesn’t beat himself. He’s the kind of guy who attacks the zone.”
Then again, this time last year, Scott Patterson looked real good too…