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Bisons relievers Zach Jackson, Tayler Saucedo combine for 14-0 record

Zach Jackson’s teammates didn't realize the right-handed relief pitcher’s unblemished 8-0 record was the best mark to begin a season in the modern era of Buffalo Bisons baseball.

But they noticed the gaudy statistic, and let him know as much.

“We always tease Zach,” said Tayler Saucedo, a left-handed reliever and Jackson’s roommate, “because he somehow always comes in when the game is tied, so we’re like, ‘Oh, the game is tied, late game, Zach, you’re going in.’ ”

Saucedo has run his record to 6-0, giving he and Jackson a combined 14-0 mark this season. The rest of the team’s pitching staff has combined to produce a 42-52 record, including Tuesday’s 10-8 loss against the Rochester Red Wings at Sahlen Field.

Jackson’s 8-0 start is the best for a Bisons hurler in the "modern era," which refers to when Triple-A baseball returned in 1985. And his eight consecutive victories ranks just one short of tying the Bisons' modern era franchise record of nine, a feat accomplished by Jimmy Williams in 1996, Jack Cressend in 2004 and Aaron Laffey in 2007.

Williams opened the season with a 3-3 record before winning nine in a row. Cressend was 1-1 before winning nine straight. And Laffey was 0-3 before his 9-0 run.

Only two others have reached eight consecutive victories: Jason Jacome in 1998 and Tim Drew in 2002.

Jacome had a 6-2 record, then actually won 11 consecutive games, but eight consecutive to finish the regular season with a 14-2 mark. He went 3-0 in the playoffs, including a victory in the clinching Game 5 of the International League finals at Durham.

Drew was 0-3 before winning eight straight.

The best start to a season in modern era franchise history previously belonged to Pete Filson and Joe Roa, who started 6-0 in 1986 and '95, respectively. Saucedo also has tied the previous franchise record for best start.

“They’ve done a great job. They’ve been stabilizing forces out of the bullpen,” Bisons pitching coach Doug Mathis said. “They’ve both worn many hats. Jackson has pitched everywhere from middle relief to late-inning relief and multiple innings, and he’s done different things this year than he’s ever done before, role-wise, and he’s had a great year and gotten a lot better.

“And 'Sauce' has been just as impressive. He’s been up here twice now and he’s a guy that’ll make a start for us, pitch late in games, pitch long if we need him, goes out there and attacks guys. They’ve been fun to watch.”

Jackson, 24, a third-round draft pick out of Arkansas in 2016, owns a 2.89 ERA this season, with 53 strikeouts to 27 walks in 53 innings pitched over 36 games.

The 6-foot-4, 230-pound Tulsa native didn't realize he was building such an impressive win-loss record, let alone approaching a franchise first.

“It’s one of those things that kind of snuck up on me,” Jackson said. “It just kind of worked out. As a reliever, I was the guy in the game. And it seemed like every time I went in the game, we scored a run right after and we ended up coming out with the win. It’s honestly something I didn’t pay much attention to until everybody started telling me.

“It’s just bizarre for a reliever to have that many wins, but I’ve kind of lucked out on a lot of those. The zero in the loss column is probably the most important part.”

Jackson picked up his most recent victory in the Bisons' 6-3 win against Columbus on July 19 in Buffalo despite allowing one earned run on two hits and a walk in 1.1 innings. He struck out two.

Jackson earned his first save of the season Monday despite allowing two runs on two hits in the ninth inning of the Bisons' 6-5 victory against Rochester at Sahlen Field. He struck out one.

Jackson hadn’t collected more than two wins in a season since turning pro in 2016. He went 2-3 with a 2.47 ERA with Double-A New Hampshire last season.

Saucedo, 26, a 21st-round pick out of Tennessee Wesleyan in 2015, has a 2.84 ERA with 35 strikeouts to 11 walks in 44.1 innings over 17 games.

Saucedo earned his most recent win Sunday, when he allowed just one hit over three scoreless innings in a 4-0 victory at Durham. He issued one walk and had two strikeouts, after entering the game in the second inning.

The 6-foot-5, 185-pound Honolulu native does have a loss to his credit this season, albeit in Double-A. He has appeared in 12 games with New Hampshire, where he’s produced a 2-1 record, 1.01 ERA and 23 strikeouts to 16 walks in 26.2 innings.

Like Jackson, Saucedo said his unbeaten record this late in the season sort of sneaked up on him.

“If they needed a start, somehow I would go five (innings). Or I’d come in early because a pitcher was struggling,” Saucedo said. “It just ended up being that way and the wins started piling up.”

Buffalo Bisons pitcher Zach Jackson signs autographs for fans. (James P. McCoy/Buffalo News)

Jackson said he enjoys coming out of the bullpen more than starting, something he learned about himself during his three seasons in college.

Jackson appeared in 18 games as a starter and reliever during his final season at Arkansas, finishing with a 5.09 ERA, a 3-3 record, four saves and 66 strikeouts to 40 walks in 53 innings.

“I like relieving a lot more,” Jackson said. “I like just kind of getting a little adrenaline rush and heading out there. As far as starting, it’s a lot different preparation. You kind of have a long time to think about your outing. It really wasn’t for me. Relieving is definitely a way better fit.

“It’s just one of those things. Once you get on a little bit bigger stage in college, it was a new experience, and I guess anxiety builds up and it’s a lot to take in. And you only throw once a week, so if I was relieving, I could get two or three chances at it and I wouldn’t have to think about it at all, it would just kind of catch me by surprise whenever I got called to go in the game. And that was a lot better fit for me.”

Jackson relies on his curveball as a strikeout pitch.

“That’s kind of been my ride-or-die pitch my whole career,” Jackson said. “I got it pretty good in college, and especially as a reliever, off-speed is a very important thing to be able to throw for strikes.

“It’s hopefully something (opponents) don’t see a whole lot. I feel like it’s somewhat of a unique pitch from a unique angle, so maybe that’s why it’s been pretty successful to this point.”

Mathis said the velocity and angle from which Jackson throws make his curveball particularly effective.

“It’s hard. It’s different,” Mathis said. “It’s anywhere from 84 to 86 (mph), and he throws from an extremely high arm slot. He’s got a different look. He’s kind of funky. He’s got arms and legs and a lot of stuff going on with his delivery, but he’s done a good job of owning what he does.”

Saucedo, meanwhile, has a variety of pitches working well.

“Curveball, slider, changeup, he has multiple options to go to,” Mathis said. “I think sometimes when he does get into trouble, it’s because his fastball actually moves too much. He has a hard time keeping it over the plate just because of the movement. But he’s done a great job of just going right after guys. He hasn’t been scared or shied away from getting beat. He’s out there being the aggressor, and that’s really helped him out.”

Saucedo said his success this season is at least partially the result of a sinker he developed last season with High-A Dunedin.

“And ever since, I’ve just been riding with it and just making the guys hit it and see if they can beat it,” Saucedo said. “That’s all I’ve been doing really, and just mixing pitches and working well with my catchers.”

Bisons manager Bobby Meacham said winning, like Jackson and Saucedo, can become habitual and snowball.

"Those two guys are building on the success they’ve had so far," Meacham said. "Each time they go out there they must feel good about themselves and feel confident in what they’re doing."

He said a pitcher’s win-loss record is “huge.”

“If you get losses, that means you’re somehow turning over the lead,” Meacham said. “And if you get wins, that means you’re holding the lead or you’re staying in there long enough until we can take over a lead. So that can’t be minimized."

Mathis said he puts less emphasis on a pitcher's record, but is nonetheless amazed by what Jackson and Saucedo have been able to accomplish.

“I personally don’t put too much stock into wins and losses, even with starters,” Mathis said. “It’s fun to look back at the end of the year, but to me, that’s just kind of a byproduct of what kind of team you play for. But it’s impressive. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen two guys, out of the pen, have that many wins combined. It’s kind of crazy.”

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