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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
ST. PETERSBURG - Edwin Jackson can be maddeningly frustrating as he labors through innings littered with walks and hits. He can be brilliantly dominating as he breezes through a lineup. He can be precise with one pitch in a crucial situation, errant with the next.
Sunday he was all of those things.
Enough so that even the feeling of the day seemed convoluted. The Devil Rays lost 5-3 to the A's to finish the homestand at a disappointing 3-3 before leaving on an odd extended road trip that includes three road games in Baltimore and Toronto and three "home" games at the Disney complex, but manager Joe Maddon was glowing about the potential breakthrough of his enigmatic 23-year-old right-hander.
"I was really pleased with Jack and I thought, hopefully, he broke some mental adhesions today where he's finally starting to gain some confidence and realize the feeling it takes to pitch at this level, on a high level. And he did, " Maddon said. "He was really good as that game got deep."
In the first three innings, Jackson allowed nine of the first 17 batters to reach, walking four, giving up five hits and throwing 70 pitches.
In the next three innings, Jackson retired all nine batters, allowing only two balls to be hit out of the infield and throwing 37 pitches.
And in the seventh inning, Jackson struck out leadoff man Chris Snelling on a game-high 97 mph fastball to run his string to 11 straight outs, and felt he had the next, Nick Swisher, set up with a series of consecutive sliders.
But as good as the first four were, Jackson missed badly on the fifth and could only watch as Swisher made it his favorite mistake, crushing a monstrous home run that soared over the D-ring that hangs about 70 feet above rightfield, hit a cable on the way down and short-hopped the new scoreboard on the back wall. The homer, estimated at 445 feet, put the A's ahead to stay, 4-3, and ended Jackson's day in defeat again, marking the seventh time he has started as a Ray and the seventh time they've lost.
"I knew he was sitting on a slider, but I wouldn't change the pitch, " Jackson said. "I just didn't execute what I wanted to do. It was right there in his power zone."
Swisher, who beat the Rays (14-17) with a three-run homer on Friday and was 7-for-15 in the series, admitted that he was waiting for it. "I was on that one after seeing it four times in a row, " he said.
Jackson said his stark improvement after the third inning was the result of an attitude change as he essentially dared the A's to hit his best stuff: "I just said, all right, no more runs. They still got one more, but the whole pace of the game changed as far as being aggressive."
Maddon said the difference was obvious in terms of tempo and rhythm. "He just had this nice flow to his delivery and he was finishing with a lot of aggressiveness and the way he looked out there, " Maddon said. "It changed. He really got focused. I think he was committed to each pitch. And I think his confidence surged."
Maddon is intrigued enough by Jackson's in-game improvement that he is considering allowing him to regularly throw more pitches (116 on Sunday) than the other young starters, figuring he'll keep getting better as he goes.
"What you saw there at the end is what he is capable of doing from pitch one, " Maddon said. "He's a young man and we're going to arrive at that point eventually. But for right now, I'll take what I saw today."