In each of the past 15 years, right-hander Edwin Jackson has found a major league home, and as he joined the Orioles — his 12th major league club — Wednesday, he was appointed to fill an important bullpen need.
This time, it took a little longer to get back to the majors. The 33-year-old went through spring training unsigned, and when he signed a minor league deal with the Orioles on April 5, he still had to climb an organizational depth chart that was filled with optionable relievers.
The Orioles selected Jackson's contract from Triple-A Norfolk on Wednesday, a move that was expedited by an opt-out clause in his minor league deal that went into effect this week. The Orioles optioned left-handed reliever Donnie Hart to Norfolk to make 25-man roster space. There was already an open spot for Jackson on the 40-man organizational roster.
"I would think we all play to have that expectation to being the big leagues," Jackson said. "Once you've been here and once you've had a taste of it, if you don't expect to be here, then there's pretty much no reason to play the game. That's why we put in the hard work we put in. We go out and have the perseverance we have. We're going out and grinding day-in and day-out to be here. If you don't expect to be here, there's no need to even take the field."
Jackson arrived in Baltimore on Wednesday afternoon after flying in from Atlanta — the Tides were playing in nearby Gwinnett County, Ga. — and pitched the Pittsburgh Pirates that night, entering the game to open the seventh inning and going 2 2/3 innings.
Jackson, who hadn’t pitched since Saturday, provided length, but allowed a two-run homer to Jose Osuna on the third batter he faced in the seventh, putting the Orioles behind 6-1 before a four-run ninth -- capped by rookie Trey Mancini's two-run, pinch-hit home run with two outs in the inning -- sent the game to extra innings.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter said he can foresee Jackson filling a variety of roles in the bullpen, which is still trying to find the right mix of relievers in the absence of closer Zach Britton.
"I think you look at it kind of like a utility infielder," Showalter said. "I think he can handle a lot of different roles. … It's not always a flawless performance. All pitchers have their dents in their armor, but it's also a reason why they're around long. Knock on wood, Edwin's been a real — I don't want to say rubber arm — a guy who can pitch almost every day, walk in 20 minutes before game time and [tell him], 'So and so is sick you're starting tonight,' and he's ready. His reputation is really good in baseball. The people who have had him all speak positively of him."
Jackson had a 3.10 ERA over 12 appearances spanning 201/3 innings with Norfolk. Eleven of Jackson's 12 appearances with the Tides were in relief, and he had a 3.12 ERA in 171/3 innings out of the bullpen. His past three outings were scoreless, and he has been used in a variety of relief roles over that span — pitching 12/3 scoreless innings April 29, tossing three scoreless frames two days later and posting a three-up, three-down ninth-inning save in his most recent appearance Saturday.
Showalter said he sees Jackson's role as being like the one right-hander Alec Asher earned before joining the starting rotation, in which he provides multiple-inning length for an early-exiting starter or provides an inning later in the game. Showalter said that, had the Orioles not turned a three-run game into a one-run game against Pittsburgh in the seventh inning Tuesday night — a game they won, 6-5, in 10 innings — that situation would've been a good fit for Jackson.
There is also the potential for Jackson to receive spot starts.
"I've done them both," Jackson said. "At this point, I feel like there's not much that I haven't done. I'm just ready to go. I'm comfortable with both. I've done them both before, and I have experience with the bullpen and starting. At this point, it's just a matter of when your name is called and what I'm asked to do."
With the Orioles, Jackson will likely help fill a long-relief role, at least initially. Though he's pitched mainly in relief over the past three seasons, Jackson made 13 starts for the San Diego Padres last season, going 5-6 with a 5.89 ERA.
Owning a career 93-114 record and 4.65 ERA at the major league level, Jackson spent most of his career as a starting pitcher — he threw a no-hitter for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2010 — but has worked mostly out of the bullpen for the past three seasons.
In his first year of full-time relief work in 2015, Jackson had a 3.07 ERA in 552/3 innings with the Chicago Cubs and Atlanta Braves. While pitching with the Braves — with whom he had a 2.92 ERA over 242/3 innings — Jackson worked under current Orioles pitching coach Roger McDowell, who Showalter said provided positive reviews of Jackson.
"He's a veteran pitcher who's been very durable over his career, and he's pitched effectively in a lot of different roles in the big leagues," Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette said. "Every major league team needs a swingman, a pitcher who can be available for a spot start or relieve in different roles. I think Edwin can do all those roles for us."
Now that he's been placed on the major league roster, Jackson will earn a base salary of $850,000. His deal also includes $1.6 million in potential performance bonuses.
The Orioles are Jackson's 12th major league club, which is one short of right-hander Octavio Dotel's record of playing for 13 major league teams in a career.
"It definitely feels good," Jackson said. "It's like the first time back in the big leagues, all over again. I've definitely been putting in a lot of work, and I'm excited to be back in the clubhouse and be back where I belong. … I've played against them a lot. It's a tough team to pitch against, so I figured why not play with them. I get a chance to watch them on the same side and have fun."
Jackson said he was confident he'd be back in the majors this season. He said he received other opportunities to pitch in spring training, but joining the Orioles was the most attractive one because of their strong defense and ability to score runs.
"There's always a need for pitching," Jackson said. "It doesn't matter how a team starts off or how a team is looking in spring training. It's just one of those positions that always needs to be filled at some point during the season. You can never have enough pitching in baseball, and if you're healthy and you have a track record of being healthy and you can go get outs and produce on the field, then you always have a chance to be with a ballclub."
By adding Jackson, the Orioles sacrificed some bullpen flexibility. Jackson can't be optioned back to the minor leagues without clearing waivers, so he's not able to be easily shuttled back and forth between Baltimore and Norfolk when the club needs a fresh reliever.
But the Orioles hope that Jackson's ability to provide length and pitch often can help compensate for that, especially with demoted starter Ubaldo Jimenez also in the bullpen.
As for Jackson, he's planning to prove his worth — and pay back the faith the Orioles have shown in him.
"Like a wise man told me, though, it's not about making it," Jackson said. "It's about staying. It's great to make it back, but there's still a lot of work to be done, so go ahead and keep yourself around. That's the main issue. That's the main point, to come in and continue to work and continue to get better and stick around."