The Detroit Tigers are off to an eye-catching start to the 2012 campaign. Of course, the Tigers’ No. 3 and 4 hitters in their batting lineup, Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, are the linchpins in the heart of the Tigers’ batting order.
However, setting the table for Detroit as its leadoff hitter, center fielder Austin Jarrell Jackson, 25, on Opening Day went 3-5, scored a run, and hit a walk-off, bases-loaded single down the third-base line to give the Tigers a 3-2 win over the Boston Red Sox.
With Jackson preparing the meal, the Tigers so far have feasted on their opponents. He said he was not surprised how he has started the season. “Every player wants to start the season on a good note,” he said. “But you cannot get too excited about what you are doing because this is a long season and you have to take it day by day.”
Truer words have never been spoken by Jackson; however, right now at this time in the early season, he can look himself in the mirror and say, “Job well done . . . so far.”
The fact of the matter is, most baseball prognosticators have acknowledged that Cabrera and Fielder are two of the best young hitters in baseball and that they are the straws that will stir the Tigers’ postseason hopes and dreams.
“The big boys (Cabrera and Fielder) are keys, obviously,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said, “but if Austin keeps hitting for us like he has, and I said this at the start of the season, he will be one of the very biggest keys to our offense.”
With Jackson producing a subpar 2011 season, hitting only .249 and striking out 181 times, his ability to be the consistent table setter not only enhances the two “Big Boys,” but the team’s second hitter, Brennan Boesch.
“If (Jackson) gets on base, you have Boesch who can pull the ball through the hole (on the right side),” Leyland told reporters. “Jackson has great speed and he can always go first to third. Boesch is going to get some fast balls to hit because Jackson can steal. You can set up for the Big Boys.”
Leyland is envisioning Jackson having a bounce-back year and Boesch and the “Big Boys” will reap the benefits. A season like Jackson’s first with the Tigers in 2010, where he finished second in the American League Rookie of the Year voting, as he scored 103 runs, had 181 hits, 34 doubles, 27 stolen bases and batted .293.
“We have talked about my base stealing,” Jackson said, “and that is something I want to do even better. But I will not do it just to get numbers, the time has to be right. With the guys coming up behind me I do not want to be a distraction to them.”
To steal bases one has to get on base, and that is something Jackson has worked on in the preseason. He worked on his two-strike approach with hitting coach Lloyd McClendon this offseason and shortened his swing and his mechanics at the plate.
The preseason hard work has paid off thus far as Jackson has gotten off to a sizzling start to the season and is beginning to showcase an improved all-around game. The Tigers worked tirelessly to improve his approach at the plate and that has resulted in an outstanding batting average and, more importantly, he has drawn multiple walks thus far in the season.
“This is a pretty good team,” Jackson said. “We do not have to beat each other up, we all know what we need to do. We all know how close we came last year to getting to the World Series, so as a team we all want to get back to that point and maybe even go further.”
All know the “Big Two” are front and center, but Jackson’s 2012 effort will speak volumes about how far the Tigers will ascend.