Tigers may get Austin Jackson back soon, but have done well in his absence
DETROIT — The Tigers need Austin Jackson back.
And they don’t, at the same time.
For as much as they need their offensive catalyst and Gold Glove-caliber center fielder, they’ve done a creditable job of filling for him while he’s been on the disabled list with a sore left hamstring.
Guys like Don Kelly, Andy Dirks and Avisail Garcia have filled in on defense, while Dirks and Omar Infante have done well in his leadoff spot.
“I’m really, really pleased with the center-field situation in Austin’s absence. That’s really worked out well for us,” manager Jim Leyland said. “We’ve lucked out so far with our center-field situation. I know fans get tired of me talking about it, but Kelly’s done a good job in center field. Don’t get me wrong, he’s not a great center fielder, but he’s done a very credible job filling in, very credible. And Garcia. I’ve been able to slide Dirks over there. We’ve been lucky.”
It could’ve been far worse, given the fact they’d entrusted the keys to MLB’s highest-scoring offense to guys unused to the role.
Dirks and Infante have kept the offense going well — averaging 5.3 runs per game in the 15 contests Jackson had missed before Tuesday’s — hitting a combined .315 (23-for-73) with 13 runs scored, two home runs and three doubles. The platoon of Kelly and Garcia in center has hit a combined .196, but has contributed three home runs, eight RBI and 11 runs.
Most importantly, the Tigers have gone 9-6 in those 15 games. Last year, when Jackson spent time on the disabled list, the Tigers went 8-13.
“We’ve done all right. We’ve done OK. Done a pretty good job,” Leyland admitted. “We gotta get him back pretty soon, though. But I don’t want to get him back until it’s right.
“But I’d like to get him back pretty soon.”
That could be soon enough.
Initially, it looked like Jackson might be back on time. He was eligible to come off the 15-day disabled list on Monday.
But he wasn’t ready.
He could be on the upcoming road trip, though.
“It’s one of those doing better. I’m hoping, possibly, sometime on this trip that he could go out and get some at-bats, but I can’t swear to that,” Leyland said. “When you say time, he probably go down and get a few at-bats — hopefully not a lot of them.”
Jackson has been able to swing a bat, but that’s about “as far as we can go with it, really,” he said, admitting he has not started full baseball activities.
“No. Not yet. We did some light agility, some drills to get on the ground a little bit, but that’s pretty much as far as it went.”
Hamstrings are a frustratingly finicky injury, especially for a guy like Jackson, who depends so much on his legs.
You don’t want to push it.
“Yeah, because you just never know. The last thing you want to do is, one day it feels really good, and get out there and try to push it, and possibly re-injure it, then we’d be back to step one,” Jackson said.
“I mean, that would be good to maybe get out there and hit, get out there on the field. But you never know. You just gotta see how it feels each and every day, before you get out there just because you want to be out there. You gotta really take your time with it, make sure it’s healed, and make sure it’s pain-free before you start pushing for more activities.”
Leyland has said repeatedly he doesn’t want Jackson back until he’s “right.”
“We talked about that: ‘Get it right.’ I don’t want him to come back 85 percent and try to play and then do it again. Try to get it as close to 100 percent as you can. You might not get it to 100 percent. Who knows?” the manager said, admitting that even time isn’t a guarantee of full recovery.
“That’s the way it usually works. Look what happened to (Tigers minor leaguer Dixon) Machado. They gave him all kind of time. They can be tough. They can linger. They gave that kid all kinds of time and he got back and now he’s out again.”
That’s the last thing the Tigers want.
But at least they know they have the luxury of taking their time.
That outfield depth will be tested this weekend, when right fielder Torii Hunter will miss Friday and Saturday games in Baltimore to attend the graduation of his son in Texas.