BRADENTON, Fla. -- When people talk about the Pirates coaches' knack for straightening out wayward pitchers -- which has become a popular topic -- the subjects usually are big leaguers with a past, such as Francisco Liriano, Mark Melancon and this spring's main project, Edinson Volquez.
However, chronic Minor Leaguers can also use an occasional cure.
Take Jay Jackson, who has started 107 games in the Minors and pitched in a total of 153, winning 38 of them while putting up an ERA of 4.42 in 672 innings -- all without a sniff of big league air.
The 26-year-old righty hasn't quite pitched his way onto the Bucs' staff -- far from it, with how competitive camp has been. But he has at least pitched his way into notice. Jackson made his second start in Monday's game against the Orioles, and in two innings held them to the first run he has given up in a total of six innings.
"It's just the command of the fastball, getting it down in the zone," Jackson said of the key behind his sharpness. "I have a tendency to leave balls up, so 'down' is what I've been working on (with the coaches), and it's been amazing.
"They got me just throwing naturally, getting my arm slot down to where it needs to be. Staying back more feels more comfortable. I'm keeping the ball down in the zone and getting outs, so it's a really good thing."
Jackson got his first start on Wednesday, stepping in when Jeff Locke was scratched with a sore right side. Monday's start also came on Locke's turn. Jackson, however, is hardly the only candidate to step in more permanently if the left-hander is not available at the start of the season. He is not even a leading candidate.
"If you're in camp, you have a chance," was manager Clint Hurdle's lone comment on that.
"I feel that as long as they keep giving me the ball, I can get a chance and will try to take advantage of it," said Jackson, signed in December as a Minor League free agent after having spent the 2013 season in the Marlins' organization. "I'm feeling really comfortable and relaxed, and that's helping a lot,"
Hurdle, Bucs keep mulling over lefty-hitting options
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Clint Hurdle knows he won't be able to play lefty roulette much longer, so he's throwing all his lefty chips on the wheel any chance he gets.
"Our question marks going into Spring Training were how the right-field and first-base positions will play out," Hurdle said. "Those are questions we're still trying to iron out."
Monday's starting lineup included a quintet that figures into the competition for supporting roles at those two positions. The only one to distinguish himself was Michael Martinez, a switch-hitter who started at second base but who can and has played the outfield; he went 2-for-2.
Chris Dickerson and Travis Ishikawa both drove in a run in the 7-6 loss to Baltimore, on an infield single and force-play grounder, while combining to go 1-for-5. Chris McGuiness was 0-for-4 and Travis Snider had the weakest day, striking out each of his three times up.
Jaff Decker and Andrew Lambo each had a hitless at-bat off the bench -- and both will be in the starting lineup for the next game, Wednesday in Fort Myers against the Twins, which will again include Martinez, Dickerson, Snider and Ishikawa.
"We'll just keep giving them opportunities to play. We'll keep giving them at-bats and see where they take them," said Hurdle, who has begun to divide what he refers to as "separation" among the candidates. "But I'm not gonna seed them for you."
First number, last word
2-for-2: Russell Martin's grade Monday, both at the plate, not only going 2-for-2 as a batter, but also from behind the plate, where he threw out both Orioles attempting steals, Quintin Berry and Julio Borbon.
"He made a couple of bad pitches and gave up the two home runs. But there were some flashes of very good within that, so it's just a matter of becoming more consistent. There were some very positive signs sandwiched around a couple of home runs." -- General manager Neal Huntington, on Edinson Volquez's Sunday outing, in which he went 2 2/3 innings against the Orioles and allowed six runs, five of them on homers by Chris Davis and J.J. Hardy..
• Milver Reyes, a 15-year veteran of the Pirates organization, was presented Monday with the 2014 Chuck Tanner Award, created in 2011 to recognize a Minor League staffer who reflects the late manager's optimism, work ethic and leadership.
Reyes will be starting his second year as manager of the Gulf Coast League Pirates, and last summer led the Rookie League affiliate to a record of 33-27 and first place in the Northwest Division.
• Phil Irwin took the McKechnie Field mound in the early morning to pitch a little batting practice as a test of the tender elbow that has kept him inactive. No determination has yet been made about his fitness for game duty.
• Jeff Locke was moving freely in the clubhouse, but only said, "I played catch. Felt fine" as an update to the condition of his right side.
"We're still trying to get the inflammation and tightness out of there before we try to move forward," Huntington said, conceding that after extended inactivity Locke would face "a battle against time."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.