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Monday, May 13, 2013

Tigers will fill in Jackson's CF and leadoff spots by committee

DETROIT — Austin Jackson will not be replaced by one man.

And it definitively won’t be Torii Hunter.

With the Detroit Tigers’ speedy leadoff hitter and center fielder shelved with a strained left hamstring, the team will fill both of his roles by committee.

Minor-league outfielder Avisail Garcia was recalled from Triple-A Toledo to fill the roster spot when Jackson was placed on the 15-day disabled list Monday, a move retroactive to Sunday.

A late-season call-up in 2012 who played primarily against right-handed pitching, the rookie Garcia will get a lot of work in center field — where he’s played just 51 of his 521 career minor-league games — but so will others.

Just not Hunter, the nine-time Gold Glove outfielder, who spent most of his 17 seasons in center field, starting 1,492 games there.

“He (Garcia) is going to play. I’ll put him in center against a right-hander. I’ll play him in center against left-handers. I don’t know how it’s going to work out. It could be (Andy) Dirks, it could be (Don) Kelly. But I’m not going to move Torii over,” manager Jim Leyland said of the process of deciding who’ll replace Jackson in Comerica Park’s spacious center field.

“We’ll have a guy out there who can cover a lot of ground out there. Kelly’s pretty good at covering a lot of ground — not to the extent of Austin Jackson, obviously — and Garcia will cover a LOT of ground when he plays.”

Garcia has the skill set and the speed to play center field, but Leyland didn’t want to throw him out there the first day.

“I didn’t play him tonight, so he can get adjusted to the center field. Brookie (outfield coach Tom Brookens) is going to work him out a little bit. Get him a little comfortable,” Leyland said. “He’s a good outfielder. He can run, he can throw. He’s a nice player. ... If he hits, he’ll be a really, really good major league player.”

Garcia had a chance to make the team out of spring training, but had his bid cut short by a right heel injury that ultimately cost him the first month of the season. After a six-game rehabilitation stint with Class A Lakeland, where he hit .417, Garcia hit .432 in eight games with the Mud Hens, including four hits in six at-bats against left-handed pitching.

“Well, he’s been doing OK. Getting a few infield hits. Good all-around player. That’s what your farm system is for. Every team has these situations, so you deal with it,” Leyland said. “No big deal. You move on.”

Nicknamed “Mini-Miggy” for his resemblance to his countryman Miguel Cabrera, the Venezuelan youngster was ranked the No. 3 prospect in the Detroit farm system by MLB.com and the second-best (74th overall) by Baseball America.

Dirks was penciled in as the leadoff hitter for both Sunday and Monday’s games, but probably won’t play against left-handers, leaving the leadoff spot open for those days. It could be Garcia who leads off, or Hunter, or maybe No. 9 hitter Omar Infante.

It won’t be the first time that the Tigers have had to figure out how to live without Jackson. He missed 21 games in May and June last season with an abdominal strain.

The Tigers went 8-13 in that stretch, and 8-17 in games last season when Jackson did not play.

In his time in Detroit, the Tigers are 249-192 when Jackson plays, and 15-30 when he does not.

Jackson himself was not able to pinpoint when exactly he initially hurt the hamstring this season, and said it’s been lingering for weeks, and it’s impacted his defense to an extent.

"I never like to say I'm injured but the reality of it is I am," Jackson said. "I've had good days with it, but also bad days. It's been kind of confusing at times. There's been a couple of times I thought it was getting better, and maybe I was too aggressive with it."

Leyland, who said Sunday that it was playable — and Jackson concurred — just wants to make sure it doesn’t linger any longer.

“It’s a Grade 1 (strain), but it’s just one of those you want to make sure it’s right. No sense fooling with it. The way they’ve got to treat it (with ice initially), it’d probably be five, six days for sure. We just want to make sure that it’s done right,” Leyland said.

“So that’s the end of that story.”

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