'This is real': Jackson excels in MLB debut

Dodgers' No. 22 prospect helped by clutch homers from McKinney and Muncy

August 17th, 2021

LOS ANGELES -- After playing on Sunday Night Baseball against the Mets, the Dodgers left New York at about 1:15 a.m. ET. They didn’t land in Los Angeles until 5 a.m. PT. 

To make things even trickier for the Dodgers, they had to be ready to play on Monday night against the Pirates. Because of the quick turnaround, it was a light day for the Dodgers. There was no on-field batting practice and most of the preparation was done inside the clubhouse in order to give the players some more time to rest. 

The Dodgers were able to find just enough energy as Billy McKinney and Max Muncy launched solo homers to help the Dodgers beat the Pirates, 2-1, on Monday at Dodger Stadium. The Dodgers are a Major League-best 43-17 against teams with losing records.

“It was a grind getting going today,” McKinney said. “Everybody got up and fought hard. It’s a testament to the team and the diligence and how focused everybody is. Everyone was just hoping to run on fumes during the game and get some rest tonight. Glad we were able to pull that one out.”

While Muncy and McKinney’s solo jacks certainly energized the crowd and the dugout, the Dodgers’ No. 22 prospect, right-hander Andre Jackson gave the club a much-needed boost on Monday.

With a plethora of injuries in the starting rotation and a pair of bullpen days scheduled this week, the Dodgers desperately needed some length. Los Angeles leaned on Jackson despite the fact that he made just two appearances in Triple-A this season. Jackson, who had close to 50 family members and friends in attendance, gave the Dodgers everything they needed.

“I thought he was fantastic,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. “I thought he kept his composure really well. So proud of him for earning this opportunity. For him to pitch well, for us to win, it was just a great night for all.”

Jackson relieved left-hander Justin Bruihl, who served as the opener, and proceeded to toss four scoreless innings in his Major League debut. He flashed a mid-90s fastball and utilized a very good changeup. Jackson got nine swings-and-misses en route to collecting five strikeouts. 

“I don’t want to give away my secret,” Jackson laughed. “But I think everybody knows my changeup is my bailout pitch. Whenever I need to throw a strike or make the big pitch, it’s kind of what I go to. I didn’t have the greatest command today, but I was able to get back in the zone with the changeup and throw fastballs when I needed to.”

As Jackson alluded to, the one area in which he struggled was with his command. He walked four in his debut. But to his credit, Jackson said he didn’t let the moment get too big for him and was able to work around the walks and keep the Pirates off the scoreboard. He became the first player in the Modern Era to record five or more strikeouts, four or more walks and allow zero runs in a relief appearance for his MLB debut.

“I definitely had to dog up and make some pitches there. That’s kind of when it really hit me that this is real,” Jackson said. “I’m glad I escaped with some clean innings, but I think that actually helps boost some confidence. I’d rather have it that way for the first outing -- well, I guess throwing a no-no would be cool -- but it gives you the confidence that you know you can make pitches in the big leagues in big situations.”

Just three weeks ago, Jackson was pitching in Double-A. Tonight, he helped the Dodgers avoid falling into a five-game deficit in the division. Los Angeles is waiting for Clayton Kershaw, Tony Gonsolin, Julio Urías and Danny Duffy to return from injury. They got a good look at Jackson on Monday, and he delivered in a big way.

“That was awesome. That was everything I wanted it to be and more,” Jackson said. “But that last pitch I threw I really felt the energy of the crowd and it was really, really awesome. I don’t even have the words.”