Double A Frisco pitchers know Rangers are just call away

04/26/2014 6:20 PM

11/12/2014 4:56 PM

A day after taking a perfect game into the sixth inning, Luke Jackson sat in the stands Tuesday night charting pitches. He was joined by fellow right-hander Jerad Eickhoff.

That’s a typical task between starts for minor leaguers, but their interest became divided as the game progressed with the big-league team getting under way at Oakland. After all, one of their Frisco rotation mates had received a second call to the big leagues.

Nick Martinez, however, had gotten off to a shaky start as far as the smartphones around could tell. The A’s scored twice in the first inning to tie the game at 2-2, and then Martinez faced a bases-loaded jam with one out.

But Martinez got out of it by getting a double play on a fly ball and throw-out at home, courtesy of Leonys Martin, and went on to pitch five innings.

Jackson and Eickhoff were happy to see Martinez get out of that early jam, of course, but also know it signifies something else — the dream could become a reality any day.

The organization has shown a willingness to promote Double A players straight to the big leagues the past few years, from Justin Grimm to Martinez to Luis Sardinas, and the players know that.

As right-hander Alec Asher said, “Last year, we were all like, ‘The big leagues seem so far away.’ And Nick was at spring training with all of us, so you never really know. It’s always in the back of your head. I don’t really think about it, but I always think if I pitch well and do what I’m supposed to, there’s a chance.”

Added Jackson: “That’s the ultimate goal. If it isn’t, I don’t know why you’re playing the game.”

The pitching crop at Frisco, even without Martinez, remains intriguing throughout the game.

Jackson has the most upside in the group. The organization’s minor league pitcher of the year last season combined to go 11-4 with a 2.04 ERA over 25 games, including 23 starts, between High A Myrtle Beach and Frisco.

His fastball has touched 97 mph, he throws two breaking pitches and he continues to develop his changeup. But the No. 1 topic when it comes to Jackson is his demeanor on the mound.

“I’m a winner, man,” Jackson said. “I love competing. I’ve got three brothers and we always competed, whether it was Monopoly or trampoline football. We would get after it, so I take that to the mound wanting to give my team a chance to win.”

Eickhoff, meanwhile, is also a four-pitch pitcher who passes the eye test at 6-foot-4 and whose fastball sits in the 93-95 mph range.

The 23-year-old has shown flashes throughout his career and pitched one of his better games against Arkansas on April 14. He allowed one run over five innings with eight strikeouts and one walk.

“We’re trying to figure out what makes Jerad consistently successful,” Frisco pitching coach Jeff Andrews said. “His start against Arkansas … how do we repeat that?”

As far as Asher, Andrews likes the way he competes and attacks hitters. Asher, 22, uses his four-pitch mix well, although he is still learning how to pitch to a hitter’s weakness without sacrificing his strength.

That’s a fine line that pitchers learn throughout their development process, but Asher is taking to it.

“You have to make them hit your pitch and not let them get a pitch they can handle and drive,” Asher said.

The Frisco rotation has already seen one of its starters get to the big leagues and it wouldn’t be shocking if another reaches that level this season. They all know it’s a real possibility and are working toward it.

“They all have the desire to get better and build off what they did last year,” Andrews said. “And all of them want to be the one who is next chosen.”

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