DETROIT — It’s no secret that Austin Jackson is scuffling at the plate.
After another two-strikeout performance in Saturday’s 3-1 loss, dropping the second-year leadoff man’s average to a team-low .176, Tigers manager Jim Leyland said after the game he’d probably give the 24-year-old his first day off Sunday, just to get him away from baseball.
“I’ll probably get him out of there tomorrow, just to get him away from it,” Leyland said. “I want to make it perfectly clear, that’s not punishment. Just get him away from it for a day.”
However, when the skipper posted the lineup for Sunday’s matinee against the Royals, however, Jackson’s name was — as usual — inked in atop the list.
While not speaking about Jackson in particular, Leyland did address when is too early — or when it’s not — to make a judgment about whether a cold start is just a blip or a trend.
“I think you can kind of smell guys that are fighting themselves a little bit. But you know, up here, for the most part, guys have to fight through it. You know these periods are coming, whether it’s in your third year, your fifth year or your eighth year or your first year. It always happens,” Leyland said Sunday morning.
“But I think we’ve got pretty strong-minded players, strong-willed guys that will figure it out, fight their way through. Just understand why you’re not swinging real good, and maybe you got that one at-bat, or whatever, maybe that’s your contribution to help you win a ball game.”
While Jackson’s defense has been stellar in center field, as always, he hasn’t made that contribution with his bat lately. His only hit in the first two games of the series was of the infield variety, while he’s added to his AL-worst total of 13 strikeouts.
The fact that Jackson, who led the league in strikeouts a year ago, too, finished the spring on an 0-for-25 slide, then has started the regular season with just six hits in his first 34 at-bats (and an on-base percentage of .243) has to be a concerning trend.
Leyland isn’t worried just yet, given Jackson’s makeup.
“I guess it depends on how he handles it, and to me, that’s one of his strong suits. He’s one of those kids who’s never too high, or too low. But, at the major league level, he’s hasn’t really gone through this just yet, either, so we’ll have to watch it,” the manager said.
“People have a tendency to think that every time you’re not hitting, you’re doing something wrong mechanically, and that’s not always necessarily true. Sometimes, you just aren’t staying on the ball. He’s going through a little bit of a streak where he’s swinging at the ball, and taking strikes. So I think he’s getting caught in between, just a little bit. And that’s usually a tell-tale sign of a little slump. But he’ll come out. He’s just not in a real good groove right now.”
Another setback for Zumaya
Oft-injured reliever Joel Zumaya was supposed to start light throwing on Thursday, but that’s been put on hold again, according to Tigers trainer Kevin Rand. Zumaya, who was shut down in spring training after experiencing inflammation in his surgically repaired pitching elbow, felt some discomfort at the end of his first throwing session, Rand said.
There will be a conference call Monday with the doctors involved in the rehabilitation process, including surgeon Dr. James Andrews.
Leyland waited until the last minute to post his lineup Sunday morning, waiting to see if Magglio Ordonez’s surgically-repaired ankle would allow him to play in the day game, after Saturday’s 4 p.m. start.
It did not.
“Sometimes that thing just stiffens up on him,” Leyland said, noting that Ordonez would “more than likely” be available to pinch hit, if needed.
With Ordonez out, Brennan Boesch started in right field, and moved into the No. 3 spot in the lineup, hitting in front of Cabrera.