BRADENTON, Fla. -- When people talk about the Pirates coaches' knack for straightening out wayward pitchers -- which has become a popular topic -- the subjects usually are big leaguers with a past, such as Francisco Liriano, Mark Melancon and this spring's main project, Edinson Volquez.
However, chronic Minor Leaguers can also use an occasional cure.
Take Jay Jackson, who has started 107 games in the Minors and pitched in a total of 153, winning 38 of them while putting up an ERA of 4.42 in 672 innings -- all without a sniff of big league air.
The 26-year-old righty hasn't quite pitched his way onto the Bucs' staff -- far from it, with how competitive camp has been. But he has at least pitched his way into notice. Jackson made his second start in Monday's game against the Orioles, and in two innings held them to the first run he has given up in a total of six innings.
"It's just the command of the fastball, getting it down in the zone," Jackson said of the key behind his sharpness. "I have a tendency to leave balls up, so 'down' is what I've been working on (with the coaches), and it's been amazing.
"They got me just throwing naturally, getting my arm slot down to where it needs to be. Staying back more feels more comfortable. I'm keeping the ball down in the zone and getting outs, so it's a really good thing."
Jackson got his first start on Wednesday, stepping in when Jeff Locke was scratched with a sore right side. Monday's start also came on Locke's turn. Jackson, however, is hardly the only candidate to step in more permanently if the left-hander is not available at the start of the season. He is not even a leading candidate.
"If you're in camp, you have a chance," was manager Clint Hurdle's lone comment on that.
"I feel that as long as they keep giving me the ball, I can get a chance and will try to take advantage of it," said Jackson, signed in December as a Minor League free agent after having spent the 2013 season in the Marlins' organization. "I'm feeling really comfortable and relaxed, and that's helping a lot,"
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less