Last season, the month of July was exceptionally cruel to Austin Jackson. He hit a mere .223 average and only managed .264/.319/.430 in the second half of 2013. Jackson had a respectable .296 avg and .784 OPS when facing right-handed pitchers; however, he struggled against lefties, posting a .213 avg and .681 OPS, numbers which were equally egregious as July.
That continued during the first eight games of the postseason, where Jackson hit a dismal .143 until former Tigers manager Jim Leyland had no choice to drop him in the order. That's when the bat found new life at last. During the final three games of the ALCS Jackson went 6-for-9 with three walks, a trend carrying into the 2014 spring training season so far.
Austin Jackson is currently 8-for-13; in five games he has doubled, walked, produced seven RBI, and only struck out twice. Five of his eight hits produced runs. One day after Nick Castellanos gifted the Detroit Tigers with their first home run of spring training, Austin Jackson sent his own two-run shot screaming over the wall against the Pittsburgh Pirates Tuesday.
Jackson's first game was against the Braves where he bat sixth and had two hits while striking out once. Nothing particularly exciting but the important part is he reached base twice in three at-bats. Tigers manager Brad Ausmus moved him to the fourth slot in the lineup next, where he got two at-bats, the first of which resulted in a walk. His other appearance drove in two runs.
Ausmus moved Austin back to sixth for the third game, where he produced an RBI and two hits in three at-bats. In the fourth game, Ausmus again penciled Jackson into the number six spot. Again, three at-bats, only this time he brought home a runner, reached twice, and smacked a double. He struck out once but you see the trend that is developing.
Against the Pittsburgh Pirates Jackson moved up to the number five slot. He was walked, had a base hit, and jacked a two-run homer that put the exclamation point on a spring training that's been going exceptionally well for Jackson.
Ausmus is brilliantly cryptic, nearly to a fault, and he will continue to say that placing Jackson in the middle does not mean that's where he will start on Opening Day. Earlier in the week he told assembled reporters, "It's difficult to do anything with anyone in particular when you have some guys playing, some guys not playing on any given day. When (Jackson's) in there, try him in a few different spots."
"At this point in spring training, especially with as many guys we have, it's going to get mixed up. If we decide he hits leadoff, it's not like he's never done it before. It's an easy adjustment back. Really right now, it's just about getting playing time, getting at bats."
It may be just that, but so far the closest Jackson has come to that leadoff spot again is hitting cleanup, and following the second game Ausmus moved Jackson back down the lineup where he's remained to this point.
If Ausmus does indeed move Jackson into the leadoff position it will be interesting to see how those numbers compare to the ones he's produced so far. Anything is possible and only time will tell, but for now Jackson looks as if he's found a rhythm in the middle of the lineup.