LITTLE ROCK — Mentioned on the Arkansas broadcast, Zach Jackson’s season-long numbers seemed out of whack for a pitcher entrusted with securing the Razorbacks’ trip to the College World Series.

LITTLE ROCK — Mentioned on the Arkansas broadcast, Zach Jackson’s season-long numbers seemed out of whack for a pitcher entrusted with securing the Razorbacks’ trip to the College World Series.

More than anything, 37 walks in 53 innings smacked of control problems — a potentially precarious situation against a Missouri State with a reputation for taking an inordinate number of pitches.

The major leagues vs. the college game might be apples and oranges, but I looked up St. Louis closer Trevor Rosenthal in search of perspective on Jackson’s numbers. Through Tuesday night, Rosenthal had allowed only 10 walks in 28 innings and had struck out 29, leading to the conclusion that Jackson’s 81 strikeouts were extraordinary and his walks way too high.

Put me in the same rush-to-judgment category as those gnashing their teeth when Arkansas was 11-12 and the media when the Cleveland Cavaliers were below .500 in January and most of the college football world when Ohio State’s backup quarterback was inept in a 35-21 loss to Virginia Tech in the second game of 2014.

Jackson’s game-by-game provides a stunning contrast between his first 15 appearances and his last nine.

He allowed at least one walk in 14 of his first 15 games and five of those stints lasted less than two innings.

In his last nine games, he has walked four, three of those in two innings against Oklahoma State in the NCAA Regional. The totals for those nine outings are 14 2-3 innings, five hits, no earned runs, and 26 strikeouts. To record those 44 outs, he thew 223 pitches — barely five pitches per batter — and the strikeouts alone required a minimum of 78 pitches.

Why the sudden command of his pitches?

Coach Dave Van Horn has said that Jackson’s confidence skyrocketed when he was named to the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team in late April and his ultra-impressive nine-game stretch did begin in early May. Also in play is pitching coach Dave Jorn tweaking Jackson’s delivery.

In his 15 years at Arkansas, Jorn has seen dozens of talented pitchers so listen up when he talks about Jackson.

"There is no question he has the stuff," Jorn said last summer. "He’s got enough stuff to turn over a lineup three times. He just has to learn to quit wasting pitches."

Two other quotes about Jackson worth repeating:

—On Sunday, Jackson gave up a single to the first batter he faced, Arkansas’ lead was reduced to one run, and the Bears had two runners on. Jackson retired the next 11, six on strikeouts, with an assortment so impressive that Missouri State coach Keith Guttin called Jackson a big leaguer. "He’s got a breaking ball that very few people on earth can hit," Guttin said.

—A year ago, Jackson retired the first six Virginia hitters in the NCAA Regional, but gave up four runs in the third and exited. Despite that, Virginia coach Brian O’Connor said, "The draft in two years, in my opinion, that guy is a lock to be a first-round pick." In fact, O’Connor was surprised that Jackson was not drafted out of Berryhill, Okla., high school.

As a freshman, the 6-foot-4 Jackson weighed 175. He started lifting, "ate everything in sight" and is up to 215.

Jorn also taught him a change, the perfect complement to a 95 mile-per-hour fastball and the breaking pitch referenced by Guttin.

Unlike many high school stars with gaudy numbers, Jackson arrived at college eager to learn. Fittingly for a school valedictorian, he offered this honest self-evaluation prior to the NCAA Regional: "I wasn’t good enough with what I brought from high school."

Early this year, he was considered a possible starter, but the control issue was too questionable and he was relegated to the bullpen. Next year, he figures to be a front-line starter and at least one analyst says he could be the No. 1 pick in the 2016 draft.

His immediate job is to be ready if Trey Killian needs help Saturday against Virginia in the first game in Omaha.

Although Arkansas’ already-thin pitching staff took another hit Tuesday when it was revealed that James Teague is out with an elbow problem, the Razorbacks are a shorter price than Virginia to win the CWS. Arkansas is 10-1; both the Cavaliers and Cal State Fullerton are 14-1. Florida is the 5-2 favorite.

Considering Teague’s injury and questions about the effectiveness of No. 2 starter Keaton McKinney, the Razorbacks are unlikely to negotiate the double elimination portion of the tournament. Then again, this team has done nothing but surprise for weeks.


Harry King is sports columnist for GateHouse Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. Email: