In a Dodgers season that saw them tie a franchise record with 106 wins, the season almost felt empty at times. Not because the Giants outpaced them — during the regular season anyway, by one game — but rather because Los Angeles did not accomplish the most important pitching feat nearly all year.
Enter Andre Jackson.
The 2017 draftee out of Utah was added to the 40-man roster last November, portending his arrival in Los Angeles. But up first came time at Double-A Tulsa, after time at the alternate training site instead of a minor league affiliate during a pandemic-shortened 2020.
Jackson’s path to the majors was methodical in 2021, pitching 15 times for Tulsa, then moved up to Oklahoma City at the start of August. He only pitched twice in Triple-A before getting the call to the Dodgers on August 16.
Over the final two months of the season, the Dodgers scrambled to fill innings with starters in flux. Max Scherzer, Walker Buehler, and Julio Urías were the constants, all performing excellently in a season for which they all received Cy Young Award votes. But beyond that, Clayton Kershaw and Tony Gonsolin were injured, and David Price joined them though without spending time on the injured list. To fill the other two (and sometimes three) rotation slots, the Dodgers used bullpen games — churning relievers to do so, especially in August — and spot starts or bulk appearances for Mitch White and Jackson.
Jackson’s stints in the majors in 2021 were almost clinical. He was recalled four times and optioned back to the minors the very next day each time, save for October 3, which was the final day of the regular season. He pitched three times with the Dodgers; September 9 in St. Louis was the only time he was called up and didn’t pitch. He accrued four days of major league service time.
Though nominally a starter, Jackson technically pitched in relief in each of his first three major league appearances. The first two were still effectively a starter’s role, but he happened to enter the game in the second inning instead of the first.
What worked for Jackson in his brief MLB experience to date was an effective changeup, his best pitch. Jackson threw the changeup 39 percent of the time in his 11⅔ major league innings, with opposing hitters going 3-for-19 (.158) with six strikeouts in at-bats ending on that pitch.
“The changeup for me is just my bailout pitch,” Jackson said after his August 16 debut. “Whenever I need to throw a strike or make a big pitch, it’s kind of what I go to.”
Jackson pitched twice in August, but didn’t pitch in September, even during his one day on the active roster. But he was called up for the final day of the regular season to provide innings coverage if needed. After six innings the Dodgers led Milwaukee 7-1, while the Giants — the team one game ahead of them in the NL West — led San Diego by eight runs, all but sealing the division.
After collecting saves of three or more innings by the bushel — 13 such games from 2017 to 2019 — the Dodgers did not have a three-inning save in 2020 nor through the first 161 games of 2021. Outside of early bulk outings in bullpen games, the Dodgers through October 2 only had two late relief appearances of longer than two innings. Edwin Uceta got seven outs to finish a game against the Angels on May 7, but that finished a blowout loss. The best chance for a lengthy save might have been September 19 in Cincinnati, when Gonsolin followed after five innings from Kershaw. But staked to a 6-1 lead, Gonsolin allowed three runs and was pulled in the eighth inning.
Jackson allowed a single in the seventh against the Brewers on October 3, but struck out three in the inning. In the eighth he ran into trouble, with three doubles plating two runs. That cut the lead to 7-3 and, under usual circumstances might have spelled the end for Jackson. But with the division basically decided, the Dodgers had leeway to just finish out this game, regardless of the outcome. Jackson got out of the inning, then Matt Beaty hit a three-run home run to extend the Dodgers advantage to seven runs, earning Jackson even more slack.
He retired all three batters he faced in the ninth, earning the Dodgers’ first save of three innings or longer since Kenta Maeda on September 2, 2019.
Jackson was the 10th different Dodgers pitcher to record a save in 2021, one hurler shy of the franchise record set in 1979 (as well as retroactively in 1941 and 1946 in Brooklyn).
Stats: 2.31 ERA, 3.79 xERA, 4.11 FIP, 11⅔ IP, 10 K, 6 BB, 0.3 bWAR, 0.1 fWAR
Game of the year
Jackson in his major league debut on August 16 against the Pirates saw him pitch four scoreless innings. He entered in the second inning after opener Justin Bruihl got the first three outs. Jackson worked around traffic on the bases all night, allowing a walk and a single in each of his first two innings. He also walked two in his fourth inning, but stranded everyone. Jackson held Pittsburgh to 0-for-5 with a pair of strikeouts with runners in scoring position, and struck out five during his four scoreless innings. Jackson left a 0-0 game, and the Dodgers later won, 2-1.
“I thought he was fantastic,” manager Dave Roberts said. “I thought he kept his composure really well. So proud of him in earning this opportunity. I know he had a lot of family and friends here. They’ve been on this journey with him. Really good to have them in attendance, him to pitch well, us to win. It was just a great night for all.”
Jackson has four days of major league service time, and has two option years remaining. He maintains rookie status heading into 2022.