The transition from thrower to pitcher is paying off handsomely for Luke Jackson.
The Rangers' No. 9 prospect gave up four hits and a walk while striking out six in his first Double-A start as his RoughRiders fell to the Cardinals, 2-1, in 13 innings Thursday night at Hammons Field.
"I was mixing a lot of pitches, throwing everything I had," Jackson said. "I had good defense behind me that made a lot of good plays. That sped the game up tonight."
Jackson (1-0) made his first appearance in Double-A on Aug. 4 in relief. The 21-year-old had never before come out of the bullpen as a pro, but fanned four and walked one in two scoreless frames to successfully get rid of any jitters he had from advancing a level before his first start.
"It was weird, I'd never thrown in the bullpen, like 60 feet, before I pitched. So I just went out there and asked all the relievers what they did and figured it out as I went," he said.
The 6-foot-2 right-hander has made major strides as a pitcher this season, and the proof has been in the numbers. After posting ERAs of 5.64 and 4.65 between Class A and Class A Advanced in 2011 and 2012, Jackson went 9-4 with a 2.41 ERA for Myrtle Beach and has yet to allow a run in eight Double-A innings.
"Coming on the end of last year, the numbers weren't very good, but I felt like I made strides, I had good pitching coaches, including this year [former Myrtle Beach and current Triple-A Round Rock pitching coach] Brad Holman, who harped on me about pitching instead of just throwing fastballs," he said. "Last year I would have a blowup outing and let that snowball on me. This year I've limited that as much as possible and slowed the game game -- that's the biggest thing, and I've used my changeup effectively."
The Carolina League All Star has one major focus on the mound.
"Strikes, it's been pretty much my downfall, getting behind and walking guys," Jackson said. "As much as I can limit walks and free passes, it definitely helps my chances out there."
Although the transition to the Texas League has been seamless so far for the native of Southwest Ranches, Fla., Jackson has noticed the difference in competition. A couple of familiar middle infielders, Rangers' No. 2 prospect Luis Sardinas and No. 5 Rougned Odor, have helped make the move smoother.
"The better the hitters, you get better defense too," Jackson said. "There's a big jump of the infield and outfield behind me. I'm blessed to have the Myrtle Beach infielders follow me up to Frisco, they're a phenomenal pair."
With a callup to the Rangers more and more of a possibility, Jackson aims to maintain his work ethic.
"People tell me 'Oh, you're just a step away now,' so I need to keep battling, grinding, working hard, and trying to get better every day," the 2010 first-round pick said. "You've got to keep putting in the effort, doing the work and taking knowledge in from everyone you can, especially moving up levels."
Odor slugged a solo homer in the first -- his only hit in six at-bats -- all the offense the RoughRiders would muster.