On Friday, Jackson made his first appearance of the spring, and he instantly began to state his case.
The 24-year-old right-hander retired the first three Reds batters he faced before Adam Dunn led off the second by lacing a single through the middle. After retiring Joey Votto on a popout, Jackson finished with a flurry, striking out Andy Green and Paul Bako -- both swinging -- to end the inning and his outing for the day.
Jackson won the fifth spot in the rotation last spring after going 0-1 with a 1.74 ERA in seven games, striking out 18 and walking nine in 20 2/3 innings. He got off to a bad start in the regular season before finishing at 5-15 with a 5.76 ERA in 32 games.
"He's got another year of maturity under his belt," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "I expect him to be a little sharper this spring, more comfortable."
Jackson didn't give too much weight to Friday's performance.
"It was pretty good to be back on the mound, the first game in Spring Training, and hopefully get the ball rolling in a positive direction," Jackson said. "[But] right now I'm not out to prove a point to anyone. Everybody knows what I can do when I'm on my game, and right now it's just a battle between me and myself, to pitch the way I know I can pitch."
Pitching to contact -- making the hitters hit the ball rather than trying to strike out everybody who steps in the batter's box -- is what Jackson is striving to do on the mound.
"That's going to be the key this year -- making the batters swing, put the ball in play, not give up free bases," Jackson said. "If I get hit, I get hit. I can live with myself getting hit rather than giving up bases."
Jason Hammel and Andy Sonnanstine, who also are in the competition for the open slots, each pitched Friday. Hammel surrendered two earned runs in two innings, while Sonnanstine pitched one scoreless frame, retiring all three hitters he faced.
Shields at Al Lang: With Scott Kazmir's spring getting delayed by a strained left elbow, James Shields has moved into the No. 1 slot. Accordingly, he will be on the mound for Saturday's home opener against the Blue Jays.
So at least for the time being, Shields will be on track to be the team's Opening Day starter in Baltimore. But not so fast. Shields said it's a little premature to pencil him in for the opener.
"Right now I'm not really thinking about that," Shields said. "I just hope Kazmir comes back. As far as I know, right now he's going to be pitching Opening Day, and we'll go from there."
Kazmir still believes he will make his Opening Day assignment.
"[It] seems like the inflammation and soreness is going away a bit," Maddon said.
He added that Kazmir is still in Phase 1 of his recovery, which is to be rid of the inflammation before picking up a baseball.
Houser back: Left-hander James Houser, who tested positive for a performance-enhancing substance at Double-A Montgomery in 2007 and received a 50-game suspension in August, was reinstated by virtue of a technicality.
Because the Rays added Houser to the 40-man roster during the offseason, he was no longer subject to the Minor League rules, and thus was no longer considered suspended.
Houser served roughly half of his suspension by not finishing out the season for the Biscuits, and he was not allowed to participate in the Arizona Fall League.
According to the Rays, if Houser is sent down to the Minor Leagues and kept on the 40-man roster, the suspension will still be void.
Houser, who hails from Sarasota, did get into Friday's game and earned the victory in the Rays' 7-6 win. He entered the game in the bottom of the eighth with the bases loaded and promptly surrendered a two-run single that tied the game at 6, but he managed to regroup to nail down the final three outs of the inning without allowing any more runs to score. The Rays then scored in the top of the ninth, and Chris Mason earned the save by pitching the bottom of the ninth.
Price is right: David Price experienced some tightness in his shoulder Tuesday, but everything continues to be OK. Price attributed a different workout regimen for the problem, explaining that he was not used to pitching then sitting down for a while before taking the mound.
"I think it was just more throwing than he was used to, a different routine for him," Maddon said. "So we just had to back off for now."
Up next: The Rays will play the Blue Jays on Saturday afternoon in a 1:05 ET contest at Progress Energy Park in St. Petersburg. The game will be on Gameday Audio and will be broadcast locally on 1250-AM WHNZ.
Shields will start for the Rays and will be followed by Mitch Talbot, Al Reyes, Trever Miller and Dan Wheeler. Dustin McGowan will start for the Blue Jays and will be followed by Casey Janssen, Jeremy Cummings, Ryan Ketchner, John Parrish, Tracy Thorpe, Randy Wells and Jesse Carlson.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.