07/13/09 5:54 PM ET
All-Star week a reunion for Jackson
No hard feelings as Tigers starter holds Rays in high regard
By Jason Beck / MLB.com
After all, Maddon kept him around during the down years.
While Jackson, now starting for the Tigers, took in his first All-Star experience Monday during the AL players' media session, he couldn't help but think back two years around the same time. Tampa Bay, his then-home, was in last place on its way to a 96-loss season, and 15 of those losses went on Jackson's record.
He was 1-9 with a 7.26 ERA at the 2007 All-Star break, and he wasn't sure if he would be in the rotation -- or even with the big club -- coming out of it. But he was determined never to put himself or Maddon in that position again if he got another chance.
"That's when I said, 'If they don't put me in the 'pen now, they'll never have another opportunity again,'" Jackson said.
Jackson came out of the break still a starter. He gave up four runs over six innings to the Yankees on July 15 that year, then pitched six scoreless innings at Yankee Stadium five days later. He started every turn in the Rays' rotation the rest of the season.
The results weren't stellar, with a 4-6 record and 4.48 ERA in 15 second-half outings, but they were progress for him. Everything since then, for that matter, has been progress. His All-Star first half this season is simply the latest step, and it gets him another game under Maddon in the All-Star Game on Tuesday night.
"They gave me an opportunity, especially when I could've gone to the bullpen," Jackson said. "He stuck his neck on the line to keep me starting, and I was thankful for that."
That's a big reason why Jackson won't speak poorly of Maddon, or his coaches, or the Rays. He saw Maddon and some of the coaches Monday, and it fittingly came after he met up with family in the morning.
"It's definitely a good feeling to be back with some of the old teammates and old friends," Jackson said. "It's like a family reunion all over again. We've been catching up, having a lot of fun."
His 2009 season with the Tigers, he has said over and over, is a continuation of his 2008 campaign for the Rays. There's no magic spark, he insists, no nugget of wisdom that came out of the move. He's trying to attack the strike zone and make hitters mishit the ball, just as he did in a Tampa Bay uniform before he was sent to Detroit last December for outfielder Matt Joyce.
"I've just been trying to do the same thing I did last year," Jackson said, "cut down on walks and attack the strike zone more. You make the hitters put the ball in play, and good things happen sometimes. We have a great defense behind us, too."
The trade, as it turns out, was a good thing. He wasn't in the postseason rotation when the Rays went to the World Series last year. He made every turn in the rotation during the regular season until the final weekend, when he pitched out of the bullpen against the Tigers at Comerica Park after Tampa Bay had clinched the AL East.
"This is a guy who didn't make the first-round playoff roster for the Rays," teammate and good friend Curtis Granderson said. "And now he's an All-Star. He had 14 wins last year and didn't have enough to be in the rotation. And when he does [get to pitch], he pitches lights-out against Boston [in the AL Championship Series]. And now he gets a chance to show, 'I can get you out at the beginning of the game, and I can get you out at the end of the game.'"
Still, no hard feelings.
"Between '07 and '08, I was supposed to be traded four times," Jackson said. "But it's no personal feeling. I'm happy, as you can see. I was happy in Tampa, and now I'm happy in Detroit. I just try to keep good vibes wherever I go -- keep that good aura surrounding you."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.