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New Twins reliever Jay Jackson looks to build on 2023 success

FORT MYERS, Fla. — In the midst of the best season of his father’s career, baby JR Jackson came into this world four months prematurely.

After 166 days in the neonatal intensive care unit, JR finally came home from the hospital this winter, leaving the NICU days before Christmas, a joyous occasion for the family. He’s getting stronger by the day at home in Utah, while his father, Jay Jackson, acclimates to his new teammates and surroundings.

Despite the uncertainty of JR’s health and often having to be away from his son while his mind was back home, Jackson had his best season in the major leagues last year. For that, he was rewarded with the first major-league contract of his career, signing a one-year pact with the Twins earlier this month.

“It means a lot,” he said. “It means the hard work from all those past years paid off a little bit. … The main goal is winning a World Series. I just want that to check the box to finish the career, to a certain extent. But signing a major-league deal was definitely on that list, and I’m glad I finally did that, and I thank the Twins organization for allowing me to do that and giving me the opportunity to.”

While Jackson, 36, said there had been some conversation throughout the offseason, the deal wound up coming together quickly — within two or three days, he said — earlier this month.

The contract comes on the heels of a season in which Jackson posted a 2.12 earned-run average in 25 games for the Toronto Blue Jays, establishing himself in the majors after signing a minor-league pact with Toronto.

“I’m glad I got the opportunity to pitch as much as I did,” Jackson said. “… I was happy with my season. I think I could have been a little bit better. I think I could have improved on a couple of things here and there, and I’m going to try to.”

It’s been a long journey for Jackson, who has been up and down between the majors and minors, bouncing around between organizations. The Twins are his seventh organization in the past seven seasons and his eighth overall. He’s also pitched overseas in Japan during his professional career.

A starter earlier in his minor-league career, Jackson is now a reliever who is reliant on his slider, throwing it 60 percent of the time last season.

“Coming back over here (from Japan) and being able to refine it over there and pinpoint it a little bit better, it’s a pitch that gets outs, so using it more is probably the best thing for me, right?” Jackson said. “Try to do that, do what they ask me to do, and just do the best I can.”

The right-hander, who is out of minor-league options, said the Twins have yet to talk to him about what his role could look like, but he expected he could be called upon to pitch multiple innings at a time, as he often was in Toronto.

Whatever they ask him to do, he said, he’s ready for, as he seeks to make an impact in any way he can.

“This is a guy who has kind of reinvented himself and stayed at it through the course of his career and now at a later stage of his career from an age standpoint,” president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said. “Certainly someone who has found a way to utilize his mix in a different way and help out.”

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