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Start against Yankees shows Jackson worth wait for Rays

Edwin Jackson’s losing record doesn’t reflect his strong performances, including Tuesday against the Yankees.

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times

Edwin Jackson’s losing record doesn’t reflect his strong performances, including Tuesday against the Yankees.

ST. PETERSBURG — After all this time, now it's Edwin Jackson's turn to be patient.

He walked off another mound to another set of backslaps in the Tampa Bay dugout Tuesday night, only to see his chance for victory evaporate with another blown save in the ninth inning.

Regrettable? Sure. Sad? A little bit.

Fitting? You could say that, too.

For if there is one characteristic common to Jackson's time in the majors, it is the need for patience. He has dazzled big-league teams in both leagues and on both coasts with his impressive right arm, but he has never quite put it all together for an extended period of time.

And now, in the midst of 15 consecutive shutout innings, Jackson has come away with two no-decisions, though the Rays have turned both outings into extra-inning victories.

"I told him I'm going to go out there wearing his underwear or something next time out to try to break this streak up," said closer Troy Percival, whose only two blown saves have come in Jackson's starts. "He's pitching way too good to not get wins out of this."

A lifetime ago, the Dodgers waited on Jackson through parts of three big-league seasons. The Rays waited through a 5.45 ERA in 2006 and a 15-loss season in '07.

Fans in both markets waited through more ugly outings than they would care to remember. And, through it all, scouts and executives talked about patience. Even when their own was in short supply.

"He put you in a position early on last year with the early exits, the big innings, etc., he really could test your patience," manager Joe Maddon said. "The lack of strike-throwing, the mound presence, the body language, there was all these negatives. But then, there was the arm.

"You keep that in the back of your mind all the time."

Oh, Jackson still has an unsightly 2-3 record this season. He is, in fact, the only Rays starter with a losing record. But, this time, the numbers really do lie.

Jackson has been outstanding much of the season. He threw seven shutout innings Tuesday night against the Yankees, giving him three scoreless starts in '08. Cleveland's Cliff Lee is the only pitcher in the majors with more scoreless starts to his name this season.

You could say it is shocking, or you could say it was anticipated. And, either way, you could easily support your argument.

For his talent really is that evident, and really has been that elusive. It is why he was once considered the No. 1 prospect in the Dodgers farm system with an electric array of pitches. It is also why he was on a continual shuttle between Triple A and the majors with a disappointing lack of command.

"I have a lot of patience. I'm real strong-minded. To knock me down and me not get up? I don't see that happening," Jackson said. "I'm not that kind of person. I haven't been raised to be that kind of person. I've always been taught that whatever you do, you're going to have your bumps and bruises. The difference between surviving and quitting is what you do after the bumps and bruises."

You could see the potential and the frustration from start to start. Sometimes from pitch to pitch. Which explains why Maddon has been as much psychiatrist as manager when it comes to dealing with Jackson.

Maddon doesn't talk so much about Jackson's filthy stuff. He doesn't talk about his ability to dominate. Instead, Maddon talks about Jackson's look on the mound. His focus when he takes the field.

Maddon has told the right-hander to pull his hat low on his head. It is more metaphor than fashion statement. A reminder that he is at work when he takes the mound.

"Focus, pure and simple," Maddon said. "The thing that got him in trouble in the big innings is he would speed up his movements, his body language. He'd get a little antsy, a little more gesticulations. You don't see that now.

"I see him take a deep breath and gather himself. That's great stuff. Growth."

You could see it in the sixth inning against the Yankees when Derek Jeter's low liner was misplayed into a triple with one out. Clinging to a 1-0 lead, Jackson got Bobby Abreu to ground out and Hideki Matsui to pop up.

You have to remember, at 24, Jackson is younger than James Shields. Younger than Andy Sonnanstine, too. Heck, for that matter, he is younger than Jeff Niemann, down at Triple-A Durham.

The problem is the Dodgers rushed him to the majors when he was still 19 in 2003. He beat Randy Johnson in his major-league debut, and the world has been expecting a star to emerge ever since.

It is May 14, 2008, and the Rays are in first place.

And Edwin Jackson, with his 3.47 ERA, is a major reason why.

Patience.

John Romano can be reached at romano@sptimes.com.

Start against Yankees shows Jackson worth wait for Rays 05/13/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 14, 2008 5:19pm]

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