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Action Jackson: Give the Man Some Credit

With all apoligies to diary poster elgrandeplatano, I wrote this column before realizing you had recently written a diary about Jackson. Great minds think alike, I suppose.

As most of Tampa Bay has turned its attention to grown men in short shorts sweating at Walt Disney World in preparation for the upcoming NFL season, the good fortunes of one Devil Ray has gone practically unnoticed outside of Tropicana Field. Yes Edwin Jackson deserves a little credit for putting together a few decent starts in the second half to make people wonder if we're finally seeing what the Rays saw in him when they traded for him last season.

It's hard to get truly giddy for a pitcher with a 3-11 record, a 5.84 ERA, an opponent's batting average near .300, and a WHIP higher than Ben Zobrist's batting average. But since the All-Star break, Jackson has put together a few decent starts to set a career high for wins in a season while dropping his ERA nearly a point-and-a-half. It's not much of a victory, but for a man who has won only nine of his 37 major league starts, it's a victory nonetheless. Think of it as a little bonus, like getting that extra quarter in the vending machine change return or finding out the drive-through cashier accidentally super-sized your meal free of charge.

With Jackson's most recent start, a 4-0 win at Texas this past Saturday, many people wondered if the 23-year-old was finally getting on track. With how bad the Rangers are, you absolutely should beat them. But it was the way Jackson pulled out this victory that raised eyebrows and hopes. He went the complete nine, shutting out the Rangers in a ballpark where a strong enough fart can launch a ball into the right field bleachers. He allowed just four hits, struck out eight, walked only one batter, and in a rarity amongst Devil Rays starters this season he managed to do it all with just 110 pitches. The performance capped off a post-All-Star stretch of six starts with a 2-2 record, a 3.00 ERA, and five of the six starts lasting six innings or more. In a season where Jackson received every form of criticism, most of it warrented by his performance, it's only proper to give him credit for a good month of pitching.

And give Jackson credit for realizing there wasn't a better opportunity than now to prove the Rays and the rest of Major League Baseball he has something to contribute. Following the win at Texas, Jackson told the assembled media, "This whole situation could have been a lot different. Maybe I could have been in the pen or whatever. When I didn't go to the pen for the second half, I just told myself I won't give them a chance to put me in the pen anymore."

Jackson doesn't like the bullpen, rather he doesn't like the mental changes one has to make going from the rotation to the bullpen. Considering he was an outfielder converted to a pitcher just six years ago, he's had plenty to think about on how to be a starter. Adjusting his approach from throwing 100 pitches every five days as a starter to throwing 100 over a couple of weeks as a reliever is another issue and one he doesn't handle well, a point he eluded to me in a conversation after a tough loss last season.

This season though, Jackson didn't have much of a choice in turning around his season. The Rays didn't either. After numerous call-ups and demotions to and from Durham last season, Jackson was out of options and an ineffective fifth starter in Tampa Bay. If he didn't get a grip on his game, the Rays could have tried to pass him through waivers where another team likely would have snapped him up. Despite Jackson's troubles, he's only 23 and there are more than a couple of teams willing to plunk him down in AAA until he figures things out before seeing if he could finally cut it in the bigs. Then again there's always the chance that another team wouldn't want to give him a chance, and at 23 Jackson would be looking at a sudden career change. Not wanting to fall into that "overblown prospect" heap littered with names like Joe Charboneau and Todd Van Poppel, Jackson has made some of his potential turn into reality recently. Also to his credit, Jackon's not getting all caught up in the hype of a few good starts.

"It definitely feels good," Jackson said following the win in Texas. "I have to tell myself I can't get too comfortable. I've got to keep it going. ... I was happy, don't get me wrong. But once it's over, it's over." Right there in that statement lies the terrible battle Jackson faces every time he takes the mound-- inconsistency. In the middle of the previous six starts is a forgettable 3 1/3-inning stinker in Baltimore, and prior to that you can find two or three bad starts following every good start that made it appear Jackson was finally getting it together. Jackson can dominate a woeful Rangers team in the Arlington heat, now can he beat a contending Cleveland team in the 72-degree comfort of Tropicana Field? That's the big question, which will be answered tomorrow night. That answer will only bring up more questions about where Jackson fits, if he does, in the Rays' plans for 2008 and beyond.

I'm not saying Jackson should be considered an "upper eschelon" pitcher for the Rays like Scott Kazmir or James Shields are considered. I've even suggested if the Rays could move him for an impact player, as it was rumored they would with a deal with Seattle last month, I'm all for it if it's for the greater good of the team. But all I'm asking for is a reduction in the hating of Jackson just for a couple more starts. After all, everyone deserves a second chance. People hold out hope for Rocco Baldelli's hamstring, Carlos Pena takes advantage of an injured Greg Norton and turns in a career year, and Josh Hamilton gets dropped from the 40-man roster for Timo Perez and Damon Hollins. Well, two out of three ain't bad.

In the meantime though, enjoy the recent stretch of "success" for Jackson. It's one of the few sliver linings to a dark cloud of a 2007 season for him. Then we can all come back here Saturday morning to celebrate or commiserate his latest start.

Now, some other observations from Raysland and elsewhere:

  • My buddy, and Sports Radio 1010 talk show host Toby David, tells me the proverbial poo will hit the fan soon in baseball's steroid probe. According to David, a source directly involved in the Mitchell investigation says 60 to 70 current and past ballplayers will be exposed as performance-enhancement users. The allegations could come as soon as the end of this month, although lawyers representing the players could obviously slow that process down. David also tells me (as I suspected the case would be) Mitchell's findings have come from a "weak link" in the whole steroids investigation, i.e. someone with nothing to lose if he rolls over and sings like a bird. David and his co-host, Jake, can give you more details Saturday morning from 8 to 9 on 1010 AM.
  • Meanwhile, today's New York Post reports commissioner Bud Selig will soon announce a resolution in Jason Giambi's curious statements regarding steroid use made earlier this season.
  • And speaking of the Post and steroids, props to columnist Phil Mushnick for this eye-popping statistic: 30 percent of the performers in 1988's Wrestlemania and 28 percent of those who performed in 1990's Wrestlemania are dead. So when does Vince McMahon get paraded in front of Congress? Why is this the steroid problem just a baseball problem?
  • On a much lighter note, my hint that the Rays' new name and logo might surprise a few people not surprisingly meant a few e-mails to me probing for more information. I can't say much more, only that my source has seen a mock-up of one of the jersies and it looks "very nice".
  • Normally I don't like to float out rumors, but since I've already floated out two here goes the hat trick. Yesterday's St. Paul Pioneer-Press pondered the Twins might be interested in moving reliever Joe Nathan before he becomes a free agent in 2009, in exchange for a third baseman and/or outfielder. Nathan is scheduled to make a mere $6 million next season and at 32 is having another spectacular season in the Twin Cities. With depth at third and in the outfield, do you think the Rays should make a move for Nathan? Discuss amongst yourselves.
  • Remember that rumored Joey Gathright for Scott Olsen trade last spring? According to the Miami Herald, Olsen may soon be dropped by the Marlins if he is convicted of DUI from his July 21st arrest. Meanwhile, according to the Kansas City Star, the Royals still aren't convinced Gathright can hit lefties well enough to warrant everyday play. J.P. Howell has some limitations to his game, but Gathright for Howell and not for Olsen is starting to look like a great transaction more than a year later.
  • Nice catch from reader Joe Dobrowski following my recent column on the Tampa Bay Giants. Joe discovered the president of the then-New York Giants from 1895 - 1902 was noneother than one Andrew Freedman. Interestingly, that Freedman commented one day in 1902 that Christy Mathewson was part of the "exciting young nucleus" playing at the Polo Grounds that season.
  • I won't say "I told you so", but I did back in May. The "done" Yankees (as proclaimed by the New York Daily News in early July) are in second place and just five games behind the Red Sox. And Bobby Abreu, who some "experts" suggested was deadwood, as predicted is back to his usual second half ways. He's hitting .323 since the All-Star break.
  • The Denver Post is reporting the Rockies are very interested in acquiring David Wells once he clears waivers. The fact Wells would be pitching in Coors Field is somewhat amusing to me.
  • Nice to see Jose Offerman still knows how to swing the bat. I'm no law expert, but I do suggest Offerman doesn't represent himself in court. Defense was always a liability with him.
  • Delmon Young just called, he's demanding a full "dramatic recreation" of Offerman's shenanigans so a video can be replayed on ESPN over and over for the nect week. Still photos just doesn't spark up enough hate against a player like a video does.
  • Finally, the world pauses today to remember the late Elvis Presley in one of the most bizarre post-death remembrances of a celebrity. But why does Elvis get all the love on August 16th? Babe Ruth died on this day in 1948, and the beloved Shamu passed away in 1991. How about a little respect for the other morbidly obese stars who died on August 16th?
DISCLAIMER: As of this summer, Matt Sammon is now a part-time, paid employee of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays' ownership, management, players, coaches, or other employees.