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Katherine Wright: Don't overlook Luke Jackson as Braves' permanent closer
His 3.00 ERA, seven saves and .248 opponent’s batting average reinforce his consequential role (as a closer) to the team.
Luke Jackson
Atlanta Braves pitcher Luke Jackson reacts as he comes off the field after giving up the game-tying run to the Milwaukee Brewers in the ninth on Saturday, May 18, 2019, in Atlanta. - photo by AP Photo/John Amis

Parodies of Luke Jackson’s former self continue to circulate the Atlanta Braves fan base. 

To pluck someone of their past is a historical injustice, but as athletes progress throughout their careers, a positive growth should be welcomed, rejoiced even. 

Jackson has experienced that resurgence. With the Braves, the reliever has been designated for assignment (DFA) three times, in route to becoming the bullpen’s sore thumb. 

As of 2019, it seems like the thumb has healed over, pacifying many critics. 

But not all. 

The personalities of The Randy and Andy show, the new midday show on 92-9 The Game (WZGC-FM), have not shied from voicing their opinion of the improving closer. 

Around the time Jackson blew back-to-back save chances against the Brewers and Giants, hosts Randy McMichael and Andy Bunker began a running joke, “Sorry Luke Jackson, ooh” — a parody of OutKast’s “Ms. Jackson,” when summarizing his abysmal performances. But if you look closer, the blown saves weren’t indications of a reliever incapable of high-pressure situations. They were unlucky blips on the radar. 

Jackson gave up three runs on four Giants singles in the bottom of the ninth in the 4-3 loss May 22. The inning was flooded with soft hits and two stolen bases. The commotion ensued off the bat of Pablo Sandoval, who reached for a ball in the opposite batter’s box. His infield single set up Joe Panik’s game-winning, two-run single on a 3-2 count.

Most of his on-target pitches were spoiled by lucky at-bats, making sounding the alarm quite premature.

While hearing “Sorry Luke Jackson, ooh” makes me giggle every time, it’s a disservice to the anchor of the Braves bullpen — Luke Jackson. Yes, the anchor of the Braves bullpen.

Take Sunday’s game for example. Down 3-0, the heart of the lineup tainted Cardinals reliever Jordan Hicks’ save opportunity in the ninth. Freddie Freeman, Josh Donaldson, Nick Markakis, Austin Riley and Ozzie Albies induced four hits and a walk into three runs to force the bottom of the ninth.

Finally, the Braves bullpen had the opportunity to make up for Saturday’s blunder (Mike Soroka pitched six innings of one-run ball, before Dan Winkler allowed four runs to give the Cardinals a 6-3 victory). 

Jacob Webb pitched a perfect ninth, leading to Brian McCann’s go-ahead bases loaded walk in the 10th. 

Enter the mainstay. 

With a one-run lead to preserve, Jackson struck out two in a perfect frame to earn the save. He bookended a Braves relief corps, who pitched five scoreless innings.

“As an offense, that’s all we can ask for from our pitching staff,” Freeman said postgame to the Atlanta Journal Constitution. “Just keep us in it, because we know we can come back at any time.”

Further analysis by Statcast, names Jackson’s slider the third nastiest pitch in Major League Baseball. He told The Athletic’s Eno Sarris that he found the pitch last year in Triple-A Gwinnett after one of his many DFAs. 

Now, strikeouts occur more often. He’s 10 whiffs shy of a season record 46 with 107 games left.  

The newfound dirtiness has led him to the closer role, which no one could’ve guessed entering Spring Training. His 3.00 ERA, seven saves and .248 opponent’s batting average reinforce his consequential role (as a closer) to the team.

So, here’s a thumbs up Luke Jackson ooh! You are for real. 


Katherine Wright is a sports writer for The Times. She can be reached at kwright@gainesvilletimes.com or on Twitter @katwrighty. 

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