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03/13/09 7:00 PM ET

Jackson hopes to make Tribe's roster

Left-handed pitcher auditioning for bullpen and rotation jobs

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Zach Jackson is a Steelers fan, and he's smart about it.

He knows the mere mention of his rooting interest is enough to earn him some enemies among the Indians fan base. So when it comes to crowing about the Steelers' record sixth Super Bowl title, he's taking the high road.

Well, for the most part. He doesn't mind gloating when he talks with teammate (and Browns fan) Jensen Lewis.

"I keep that in the clubhouse," Jackson said, "between me and Jensen."

Jackson, a Latrobe, Pa., native, won't get on the good side of Tribe fans with his football affiliation. But if he's able to win a job here in Spring Training camp, he at least has a chance to win them over with his pitching.

And when it comes to those efforts to get a job, Jackson is filling out multiple applications. For now, consider him one of six candidates -- Aaron Laffey, Jeremy Sowers, David Huff, Scott Lewis and Kirk Saarloos are the others -- for the last open spot in the starting rotation. But both Jackson and Saarloos are also being considered for the last spot in the bullpen, which could potentially be a long-man role.

The left-handed Jackson, 25, had a bit of an audition for both jobs last season. While in the Milwaukee organization, he was converted to relief at Triple-A Nashville and briefly promoted to the bigs, making two appearances out of the Brewers' bullpen.

When the Indians acquired him in the CC Sabathia trade in July, Jackson went to Triple-A Buffalo and transitioned back into starting. He went 3-1 with a 4.05 ERA in eight appearances, including four starts.

Though billed as a throw-in in the Sabathia deal, Jackson got an unexpected opportunity to pitch for the big league club down the stretch last season after Paul Byrd was traded. Jackson made nine starts in August and September, going 2-3 with a 5.60 ERA. Though Jackson impressed with his stuff and poise, the positive results didn't come until his last two starts of the season -- wins at Boston and Chicago.

"It was an unbelievable opportunity and a great experience," Jackson said. "I felt like I threw the ball well. Fortunately, I threw the ball a lot better than what my numbers showed. I got a couple wins on the road against teams that were in [the playoff race]. I take those things with me into this year. It gives me all the confidence in the world."

Jackson, who has a 4.35 ERA in four Cactus League appearances, took that confidence into his latest outing Friday against the A's. He relieved Aaron Laffey in the fifth and ran through three scoreless innings before plunking Jack Hannahan in the head with a fastball in the eighth. A Trevor Crowe fielding error put two on, and Jackson served up a two-run double to Landon Powell before coming out.

The line on Jackson is that he has the raw stuff to enjoy sustained success at the Major League level -- if he can maintain his command.

"He has huge upside, I think," catcher Kelly Shoppach said. "When he's aggressive in the zone, he's pretty good. He's got movement to his fastball, he has a cutter to throw them off the sinker, and he has a good changeup. I like his stuff."

Laffey remains the front-runner for the rotation spot, but don't count Jackson out for that bullpen job. He could give the Indians length out of the 'pen, and with three right-handers expected to be in the rotation (Fausto Carmona, Carl Pavano and Anthony Reyes), having a left-hander as the long man would be an added benefit.

"I'm completely open to either role," Jackson said. "Last year with Milwaukee was a blessing in disguise, going into the bullpen and knowing my arm is pretty resilient and can bounce back on short rest."

Winning a job on the Opening Day roster might have to settle for ranking as the second-most thrilling moment of Jackson's year. He was, after all, in attendance for Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa, Fla., watching his beloved Steelers post a dramatic win over the Cardinals.

"You can't describe it," Jackson said. "It was unbelievable. My uncle is actually neighbors with [Steelers owner] Dan Rooney, and they're pretty close friends. I was looking for a ticket, and he was able to get them. We had dinner with the Rooney family the night before the Super Bowl. We were just pinching ourselves."

But really, unless your name is Jensen Lewis, Jackson's not going to brag.

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.