Milwaukee Brewers: Jay Jackson’s Long Journey (Back) to the Crew
By Matt Carroll
The Milwaukee Brewers are in a stretch where they can use help in multiple areas, the bullpen of course being one of them. With a shortage options, why not give another chance to possibly the most dominant reliever they’ve had at Triple-A?
If you blinked earlier this year, you might have missed him. Veteran reliever Jay Jackson was called up to the big league club for a brief three-game stint at the beginning of May. That stint started with a bang and ended with a thud, resulting in a quick, subsequent demotion.
But now the right-hander is back, added to the Milwaukee Brewers bullpen last week in the middle of a series against San Francisco that did not put the team’s relief corps in a positive spotlight. His first outing back was a good one – two innings pitched, no hits, a walk, and four strikeouts.
His trip back to Milwaukee this year has been a long one. A look into his background, though, shows that long journeys are pretty much right up his alley.
A Well-Traveled Veteran
Many Milwaukee Brewers fans were not very familiar with Jackson prior to his initial call up this year, which wouldn’t have been surprising. Jackson was signed in February to a minor league contract with an invitation to Spring Training so he hasn’t been with the team long. Prior to that, Jackson pitched for multiple organizations.
From 2008 to 2015, Jackson pitched in the minor league systems for the Cubs, Marlins, Pirates, a brief first stint with the Brewers, and finally the Padres. He actually made his way to Triple-A quickly with the Cubs in 2009, but was unable to crack a major league roster until his lone year with the Padres’ organization in 2015.
As a September call up, Jackson’s numbers weren’t great. In six appearances spanning 4 1/3 innings he had a 6.23 ERA and a 1.846 WHIP with 5 strikeouts and a walk. Having not done enough to impress the team in that short period of time, the Padres released him after the season and he decided to sign overseas with the Hiroshima Carp of the Nippon Professional Baseball League in Japan where he began his career revival.
If that story sounds a bit familiar, it should. Eric Thames famously came to the Milwaukee Brewers in 2017 after reinventing himself in the Korean Baseball Organization during the previous three years. That signing had worked out well enough, so why not try something similar again?
Some Promising Numbers
Like Thames, Jackson experienced a resurgence while overseas as well. In his three years with Hiroshima, Jackson had a 2.10 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP over 176 innings. He had 192 strikeouts, good for a 9.8 K/9, to go with just 68 walks. That was good enough to earn him a second career stint with the Milwaukee Brewers organization.
After starting the year in the minors with San Antonio, Jackson posted some pretty impressive numbers to begin 2019. In 8 2/3 innings, Jackson didn’t give up a single run, only gave up four hits, and struck out 14 while walking just two. That was enough for the Brewers to give him a shot with the big league club and he delivered right away, promptly striking out Nolan Arenado, the only batter he would end up facing.
His next couple outings wouldn’t go as well – five earned runs over two innings at the end of games the Milwaukee Brewers were already losing. Jackson would be designated for assignment within a day of the second day, but he cleared waivers and ended up reporting back to Triple-A.
From there, Jackson went right back to dominating for the Missions. In 22 appearances after returning to San Antonio, he gave up earned runs in just three of them, a performance he parlayed into a Triple-A All-Star berth. Eventually, with the Brewers short a reliever coming out of their own All-Star break, Jackson’s year-to-date numbers were too hard to pass up. 35 2/3 innings, a 1.01 ERA, a 0.87 WHIP, and 50 strikeouts to just eight walks meant being added back to the 40-man roster as well as a call back up to the majors.
Jackson has the type of pitch arsenal that you love to see from a late-inning relief pitcher, primarily utilizing a fastball that runs in the mid-90’s and a sweeping mid-80’s slider to compliment it. In other words, he throws hard.
If Jackson can put together a streak of outings that even remotely resemble his work with the San Antonio Missions, he should be able to stick around much longer this time. The Milwaukee Brewers bullpen has been mediocre at best this year so even an average performance likely keeps him here through the end of the season.
It’s always hard to know what a team is getting when they sign a player from a league outside Major League Baseball. Since those leagues usually feature talent that isn’t quite at the Major League level, good numbers don’t always translate. But it worked once with Thames, so who’s to say they can’t strike gold again with Jackson?