LOS ANGELES — Two deserved headliners were driving forces behind Saturday’s win over the Diamondbacks, with Trayce Thompson hitting three home runs and driving in eight runs, and Clayton Kershaw striking out nine in his six strong innings. But finishing off the Dodgers blowout win was Andre Jackson, in yet another three-inning save for the right-hander.
“Being a starter all the way up, I pride myself in getting as many innings as I can,” Jackson said Sunday. “I know that’s kind of my role this year, is go as deep and be as efficient as I can to help the bullpen out.”
Jackson said one of his goals this year was to be a Swiss Army knife, helping out the Dodgers in whatever role he’s called to do, short relief, long relief, or starting.
“It’s huge, especially early in April, when you’re trying to get the footing of the relievers,” manager Dave Roberts said. “For Andre to take down three innings, to essentially save two other guys, was very valuable.”
Jackson has filled in quite well in his major league appearances, which so far consists of eight games and 24⅓ innings dating back to 2021, allowing only six runs (five earned). A starter by trade, Jackson has pitched in relief in all eight games with the Dodgers. Three have ended in a three-inning save.
But it was a four-inning save in a close game last September 4 for Triple-A Oklahoma City, in the middle of a Pacific Coast League pennant race that stood out.
“That was kind of the game that got me back here, where I kind of learned where I need to be at and figured some things out from the struggles last year,” Jackson said. “It was what propelled me to be that consistent, even guy out of the bullpen.”
Through the middle of June last season in Triple-A, Jackson had a 6.34 ERA with more walks (37) than strikeouts (30), and needed a reset.
He worked with the development staff at Camelback Ranch four two weeks in June to get back on track. That included trying to improve mentally as well as physically. Jackson said he worked on his breathing and focus, helping him to reset pitch to pitch.
After returning to Oklahoma City, Jackson increased his strikeout rate (from 16 percent to 27.4 percent) and cut his walks (from 19.8 percent to 14.3 percent), with a 3.62 ERA in the high-octane PCL. That earned Jackson a call up to the majors, where he allowed three runs in 9⅔ innings, including a three-inning save on the final day of the regular season.
“Pitching is all confidence. The more you trust your stuff, the better it’s going to be. The big deal was getting the fastball back to being a really good throw, not trying to be too fine with it, being aggressive in the zone, and challenging guys,” Jackson said. “Every pitcher will tell you when the fastball is going, their life is much easier.”
Jackson carried that over into this spring training, when he walked only two and struck out 12 in his 10 exhibition innings, and earned a spot on his first opening day roster.
One quirk of being so early in the season is that, by pitching three inning on Saturday, Jackson qualifies for rate stat leaderboards since the Dodgers have played three games. He entered Sunday tied for the National League lead in both ERA (0.00) and saves (one).
“That’s pretty cool,” Jackson said, laughing. “We’ll see how long that lasts.”
With his save on Saturday, Jackson has a three-inning save in three seasons in a row. He’s the first Dodgers pitcher with a save of at least three innings in three consecutive seasons since Alejandro Peña from 1986-89.
“I didn’t even know a three-inning save was a thing until I got the first one. I didn’t know the rules behind that,” Jackson said. “It’s funny being in a role now, I’ll probably have more opportunities for that, to finish games out.”