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New Ray lives in a speed zone

Edwin Jackson didn't have the particulars.

He didn't remember the date, the batter he faced, if the sun was shining or wind was blowing.

All Edwin Jackson remembered about that day in 2004, pitching for the Dodgers against the Rockies at Coors Field, was he threw a 100-mph fastball.

"It's like when a hitter hits a home run and you don't even feel the ball hit the bat," Jackson said before the Devil Rays' workout Sunday at the Naimoli Complex. "A lot of times when I throw fast, I feel like I'm throwing soft."

Then came the visual aid as the right-hander's effortless delivery during a 10-minute bullpen session unleashed a hissing fastball that invariably hit catcher Mike Rose's glove with a loud, sharp smack.

"He's an exciting kid to watch," Tampa Bay pitching coach Mike Butcher said. "He has the arm and the gift to do whatever he wants."

Before we get ahead of ourselves, let's remember spring training is just three days old. Jackson threw to a catcher he knows from the Dodgers organization and with no one standing in the batter's box much less trying to hit the ball.

Still, Jackson, 22, the key piece in the trade that sent closer Danys Baez to Los Angeles, is expected to push hard for a spot as a starter.

If that doesn't pan out, Jackson said he gladly will go to the bullpen, though the Rays likely will send him to the minors if he doesn't crack the rotation.

Whatever, Jackson said, "Right, now, it's about what I can do for the team as a whole."

Jackson, who at 6 feet 3, 190 pounds has plenty of room to grow, has an interesting story.

Born in Germany, he followed his father, Edwin Sr., an army staff sergeant, to bases in Louisiana, Oklahoma and, finally, Columbus, Ga.

Jackson said relocating prepared him for traveling as a pro ballplayer. He gabs and jokes with teammates even on days he pitches. He smiles easily.

He also said he hasn't lost confidence despite a career that hasn't lived up to the hype.

"I know I have a great opportunity here, probably better than the opportunity I had in Los Angeles," Jackson said. "I'm not looking at this in a negative way. I'm looking at how it can help my career."

The Dodgers drafted Jackson, a high school outfielder, in the sixth round in 2001. But with an arm that could consistently crank mid-90s fastballs, they converted him into a pitcher.

Jackson was the Dodgers' minor league pitcher of the year in 2002. He made his major league debut on Sept. 9, 2003, his 20th birthday.

In 2004, when Baseball America ranked him as baseball's fourth-best prospect, Jackson threw eight games for Los Angeles, including five starts, and went 2-1 with a 7.30 ERA.

Problems began in 2005, when, Jackson said and Rose concurred, the Dodgers tried to make changes.

"Last year I thought they tried to get him to finesse a little bit too much," Rose said. "It kind of messed his control up and took away from his strength."

"My mechanics changed," Jackson said. "I was told it was for the future, that I would be healthier because I was doing something to hurt my arm."

Jackson said he was told he was throwing across his body: "A tweak here and a tweak there. I was adjusting but I was adjusting at a higher level. It was pretty rough. You try to have success and try to learn something at the same time."

Jackson went 3-7 for Triple-A Las Vegas with an 8.62 ERA. He was demoted to Double-A Jacksonville, where, he said, pitching coach Ken Howell got him back to what he does best - throwing hard.

Th result: a 6-4 mark with a 3.48 ERA in 11 starts and seven late-season games with the Dodgers.

"Stick with what works," Butcher said. "Kenny did a tremendous job with him."

Which brings us back to Sunday, when Rose put his glove to a spot and Jackson almost always hit it.

"When he's like that, he's unhittable," said Rose, who played with Jackson in Las Vegas. "He's got a nice, heavy ball, and he's not timid out there.

"I caught him in Sacramento last year and he threw eight scoreless innings with 80 percent fastballs. His command was so good he had them off-balance with his breaking stuff later in the game."

Rays first base coach George Hendrick, also from the Dodgers organization, has applauded Jackson's acquisition.

After one nasty fastball, he said, "You can get away with a lot at 95 mph."

Never mind the particulars.