Jay Jackson went through a lot in 2016. The reliever pitched in more games than he ever had in his professional career and experienced the highs of helping the Hiroshima Carp win the Central League pennant and the lows of falling short in the Japan Series.
“I learned that your body is amazing,” Jackson said. “I threw in a lot of games, and that was my second year being a full-time reliever, throwing a lot of games, getting up and down a lot. I learned that your body can do a lot of things that you didn’t think it could.
“Other than that, mentally, it’s a long season. That’s what I learned, that this is a really long season just trying to grind it out and take care of yourself. Now that I know what the season can be like, I can adapt a little bit better.”
Adapting is something Jackson is pretty good at. He wore a number of hats in his last year as a collegiate player for the Furman Paladins in 2008. Jackson was one of the team’s top starters, played in the outfield and dabbled at first base late in games.
He may be forced to adapt to a new role with the Carp early this year, at least until closer Shota Nakazaki returns from his struggles with lower back pain. Nakazaki was removed from the active roster on April 10.
“It’s not different because every inning is important after the starter comes out,” he said. “In the roles that we have, you can mix and match any of us in those situations.”
Jackson has made six appearances this year, with one save and three holds. He’s yet to allow a run in 5⅔ innings and has four strikeouts.
“For how I want to pitch, they’ve been a little sloppy,” Jackson said of his early performances. “They could’ve been a lot cleaner. I’m going to get better throughout the year, and I know some things I need to work on to get better.”
By most measures, Jackson had a successful first year in Japan. He made 67 appearances and was second in the CL with 37 holds. He struck out 89 in 68⅓ innings and the hard-throwing righty quickly made himself an essential part of the Hiroshima relief corps. He says Year 2 might be a little tougher, since the other teams know him now, but plans to take the same aggressive approach as last season.
“You just stick with the same process,” Jackson said. “It’s about being consistent. Everybody has a scouting report on you. Everybody after the All-Star break (last season) had the scouting report on everybody.
“It’s just a matter of executing pitches and staying consistent and staying aggressive, and not changing, not being afraid to stick with what you’re good at.
“A lot of guys want to change things just because they think somebody knows them and they go away from what their strengths are and try to go to somebody’s weakness. For me, I’m going to stay with my strengths all day, because I feel like my strengths are going to be a lot better than a lot of peoples’ strengths.”
If there was one thing that didn’t go Jackson’s way in 2016, it was the Japan Series. He allowed runs in three of his four relief appearances against the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters and went into the record books as the losing pitcher in Games 4 and 6.
He left that experience in the rearview mirror after allowing himself one week to reflect.
“I just thought about the pitches I made and how my body felt,” he said. “That and just taking the positives out of it, not really thinking about the bad pitches or the unfortunate things. Just taking out the positives of how I pitched in every game and how my body felt and what I could do differently and the good pitches I did make in some of those games. Other than that, after that week, it was done. I didn’t think about it again.”
What he’s thinking about now is helping the Carp earn a second straight pennant and another shot at the club’s first Japan Series title since 1984.
“Our team is great,” he said. “I feel like we’re one of the top teams in the league like we were last year. We’ve got all the same guys back and we have an opportunity to do something special.”