A little over a month ago, after an especially rocky outing at Northwest Arkansas, Luke Jackson and Frisco pitching coach Jeff Andrews went to work adjusting the hurler's breaking ball. Get the curve over the plate, they thought, and everything else would fall into place.
Well, the Rangers' No. 7 prospect has found the zone with the breaker. And as suspected, the dominoes have been tumbling ever since.
Jackson allowed three hits and a walk while striking out four over seven innings on Friday night, helping the Double-A RoughRiders cruise to a 13-0 romp over Tulsa.
The 22-year-old right-hander has been especially sharp since that Northwest Arkansas outing, in which he allowed seven earned runs over 3 1/3 innings. He has five wins and a 1.93 ERA in the eight starts since.
The issue for Jackson (5-2) against Northwest Arkansas -- and to an extent, his pro career before that -- was an inability to work his secondary pitches in the strike zone. Since a few key sessions with Andrews, those command lapses have mostly faded away.
"I was kind of in and out of the zone a lot," Jackson said. "Working on stuff in the bullpen, now I'm able to get the curve over when I need it. That's helping a lot."
In particular, Andrews has helped Jackson get a better feel for how to tweak the pitch in game situations. He can make adjustments pitch-to-pitch to improve his command in a way he's never felt before.
"I know if I leave it up, I just need to get out in front, get extension and drop it right in there," he said. "That's really helped me my past couple of starts."
Improved curveball command has only made Jackson's plus heater more effective. He ramped the pitch up to 98 mph on Friday, and while he usually sits in the low- to mid-90s, he said he always has one or two upper-90s fastballs up his sleeve.
"I get up there probably once a game or something like that," he said. "Last year, I could get up to 98, but the year before, I was up to 100 a few times in my second full season.
"I could never get back up there, and for a while I didn't know what was going on. I was thinking maybe I just can't do it anymore, but as the years have gone on, I've been able to tick up closer. I'm hoping that's still in there somewhere."
Jackson hit some bumps in the second and third innings, allowing all three of his hits, a walk and a hit batter but getting through unscathed, thanks to his defense. The right-hander sailed smoothly from there, retiring his final 12 batters.
Jackson has six starts this season with one or fewer walks, compared to seven such outings in all of 2013. He's also fourth in the Texas League with a 2.78 ERA.
"I'm just trying to go out there and have a game plan," he said. "I've stuck with that the past five or six starts. Me and [Andrews], we've kind of narrowed things down, going with the mentality of, 'Bring your best stuff. If they hit it, they hit it; and if not, then not.'"
The Florida native heaped praise on his defense, specifically that of first baseman Trever Adams. The 25-year-old also collected six RBIs with a 2-for-3 effort that included a grand slam and three runs scored.