Some day, Luke Jackson may look back at his seasons in Myrtle Beach, where he surfed the pristine coast between starts and dominated the Carolina League every five nights. Friday's gem set up a nice weekend for the Rangers' No. 12 prospect.
"You can ask everyone in the Carolina League, they wish they could play every game here," he said. "We've tried to appeal to play all 140 games here, but this place is unbelievable. I love it here."
Jackson continued to enjoy the good vibes, striking out six while matching a career high with seven scoreless innings in the Pelicans' 6-3 victory over Lynchburg at TicketReturn.com Field.
The 21-year-old right-hander limited the visiting Hillcats to a pair of hits and two walks in winning his fourth straight start. He faced 26 batters, inducing six fly balls and six grounders in his longest outing since July 27, 2012, a no-decision against Winston-Salem.
"My fastball was there, my changeup -- I think I threw only fastballs and changeups until the fifth, maybe one or two curves," he said. "My fastball command was there, Degs [catcher Kellin Deglan] was putting down the right fingers and it was working out."
Texas' first-round pick in the 2010 Draft has spent parts of the last two seasons at Myrtle Beach after debuting with Class A Hickory in 2011. Unbeaten since May 27, he leads the Carolina League with eight wins and a 2.30 ERA.
"I've gotta credit our defense, it's been unbelievable," said Jackson (8-4), who also pitched five scoreless innings against Lynchburg on May 9. "Our offense has put up a ton of runs, so they haven't made it real hard. They're helping me get through enough innings to win some games."
Since losing three straight starts from May 14-27, Jackson held Salem to five hits over 5 2/3 scoreless innings, struck out six and kept Frederick to an unearned run on two hits over six frames, then fanned nine and gave up four runs on seven hits over 5 2/3 innings against the Keys.
The success is a result of some tweaks to his mechanics and a more relaxed mind-set.
"I feel like I was out of it early on. I had some early energy I was carrying into games, getting erratic," Jackson said. "I've calmed that down a little more, lowered my front side and it's kept me down in the zone."
Last season, the Florida native was 5-2 with a 4.39 ERA in 13 starts for the Pelicans after going 5-5 with a 4.92 ERA in 13 starts for Hickory.
On Friday, Jackson retired his first 14 batters in taking a no-hitter into the fifth. David Rohm's single to center broke it up and Jackson worked around a single and two walks in the sixth before pitching around a one-out error in the seventh by shortstop Luis Sardinas.
"He's a phenomenal hitter," Jackson said of Rohm. "It was a changeup. I tried to go changeup on him and he hit one into center on me. So it wasn't meant to be, but besides that, Degs called for the right pitches all night."
Jackson, who said he threw 95 pitches, admitted he was trying to go at least eight innings for the first time in his career.
"I knew my pitch count was kind of low, I had some first-pitch outs early on, so I was hoping to set a career high, but it didn't happen tonight," he added.
Paul Schwendel came on in the eighth and allowed a run on three hits while striking out the side before Ryan Harvey surrendered two runs in the ninth.
Jackson received early run support when Deglan hit an RBI single and Sardinas scored on a fielder's choice. Edwin Garcia smacked a two-run homer in the third and Sardinas -- who fell a triple shy of the cycle -- added his first homer of the season, a two-run shot in the fourth that put the Pelicans (44-32) ahead by six.
"I think they've been like that all year, giving us early runs. It gave me the confidence and support early to go out there into the fifth," Jackson said. "They give me a good shot to win every night."
Jackson credits his coaching staff and the Rangers player development team in helping him mature in his second season at the Class A Advanced level.
"I've had great pitching coaches, it's been leaps and bounds since I got here and I've finally started to get the numbers to show I've learned something," he said. "It feels like I've made strides all year. I've gotten some great knowledge and wisdom with the coaches and coordinators about pitch selection and command and checkpoints in my delivery."
For those who've never been to a Pelicans game, Myrtle Beach and the ballpark may best be associated with Kenny Powers, the fictional reliever in HBO's "Eastbound and Down" series. Last year's run was largely filmed in Myrtle Beach when Powers, known for his brash language, Jheri curl mullet and former mound dominance, made some memorable appearances at TicketReturn.com Field. The connection has become a joke among players and fans, Jackson said.
"We've had our trainer last year, he did the Kenny Powers entrance where he held onto the back of the [wall] gate with the wig on, we were all dying laughing," he said. "We have people in the stands that come dressed up like him."
And while Jackson is far from Powers on the mound (in a good way), he's enjoying the experience and city just the same.
"The atmosphere is awesome, the field is unbelievable, our grounds crew is great, we credit them every night. It's the best field, the best mound," he said. "There's everything around here -- you can do everything, go to the beach whenever you get an off day and surf a little bit, which is nice."
Hillcats starter Blaine Sims (0-4) was charged with six runs on six hits and six walks over four innings.