Conor Jackson taking advantage of early at-bats in spring training

SportsBaseballBaltimore OriolesSpring TrainingArizona DiamondbacksConor JacksonAmerican League East

TAMPA, Fla. — Conor Jackson knows every spring at-bat is valuable. The way the 30-year-old sees it, there are only so many opportunities to show you belong.

And over the first five games of spring training — as opponents have stacked left-handers against the Orioles — the right-handed Jackson has seen his name on the lineup card often.

In the first days of camp, Jackson missed three days of workouts with lower back stiffness, but he was determined not to let the injury quell his push for a roster spot. He's had ailments derail past opportunities, and here he's on a minor-league contract, which hurts his odds because the easier move is to stash him at Triple-A until needed.

So time is of the essence.

"There's opportunity here," Jackson said Wednesday before the Orioles' afternoon split-squad game against the New York Yankees. "I know coming into camp, in my situation, I have to come out and swing good. There's some pressure right away. I don't have the opportunity like I've had in the past to have a slow start and get everything down. I have to come in and show them what I can do right away. And that's the approach I'm taking. Wherever my name is in the lineup, that's where I'm going to go."

Jackson had his best game of the spring Wednesday, going 2-for4 with a double and an RBI in the Orioles' 10-7 win at Steinbrenner Field.

The Orioles are Jackson's sixth organization since the beginning of the 2010 season. He spent all of last season in Triple-A with the Chicago White Sox, and he has played more than 60 big league games in a season just once in the past four seasons (102 games with the Oakland A's in 2010).

In Jackson's first three full major league seasons, with the Arizona Diamondbacks from 2006 through 2008, he batted .292 with an average of 14 homers and 71 RBIs per season.

But the next year Jackson was limited to 30 games when he developed Valley Fever, a fungal infection of the lungs that zapped his strength and caused him to lose 30 pounds.

"That kind of set me back," Jackson said. "When you're in the prime of your career and you miss that many [at-bats], it's tough to get back on track. When I came back I was kind of thrust into a platoon situation."

Since then, injuries have always seemed to derail any opportunity he's had. Jackson said he just needs regular playing time to get back to the form of his early days.

"It's consistent at-bats," said Jackson, a first-round draft pick by the Diamondbacks in 2003. "You could say that about anybody. Sometimes you get lost in the shuffle and when you don't get to play every day it's tough. It's not easy to come off the bench. It's probably the hardest thing in baseball, I think .... to be a role player and be successful at it. That's why you have a lot of respect for the guys who have had success doing it. It's not an easy gig."

While Jackson has seen most of his action this spring at DH — he started three of the team's first four games — his ability to play first base and the outfield helps his case to earn a roster spot. Equally as important is his .283/.381/.436 career line against left-handed pitching.

"We're looking at a lot of good competition there," said Orioles manager Buck Showalter, who also has Travis Ishikawa, Steve Pearce, and Russ Canzler vying for a first base-outfield bench role. "[Jackson] a valuable piece when you look at the left-handed starters in the American League East."

Jackson is not scoffing at a possible assignment to Triple-A Norfolk. He saw that the Orioles used 52 players last season, and he's confident he could help the big league club if called upon.

"Obviously my goal is to make the team, but if it doesn't happen and they go another route, I really enjoy this organization," he said. "I think the opportunity will be there — at the beginning of the year, the middle of the year, the end of the year. I want to play. I want to keep playing."

eencina@baltsun.com

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