Jackson keeps comeback hopes alive

Jim Leyland pointed to Sunday’s game as an example of why his pitchers have to keep them in games when they’re trailing early or late. Edwin Jackson pointed to the game as an example of how he has matured as a pitcher.

“Today’s game was just a matter of keeping it close, battling and battling, and leaving it on the field regardless of the score,” Jackson said after his six innings of work.

Just because Jackson had tossed seven tremendous innings in his Tigers debut last Tuesday at Toronto, he hadn’t yet proven his value in the Tigers rotation. He’s had outings like that before, yet followed up with rough returns and quick exits. Even in last year’s breakout season, he had at least a couple points where he couldn’t build off of the momentum of a good outing, or overcome trouble early.

And maybe not last year, but a couple years ago, he admits games like Sunday would’ve been trouble for him to try to contain after two-run homers from Josh Hamilton in the first inning and Ian Kinsler in the third gave the Rangers an early 4-0 lead. He would’ve tried to get too precise with his pitches instead of maintaining his approach against hitters.

“Pretty much, I probably would’ve been out of there in the third, fourth or the fifth,” Jackson said.

Instead this time, he said, “I just wanted to keep attacking the strike zone, just keeping pounding it regardless of the results. I felt like some of those pitches were close on the walks. Against a power-hitting team, you have to keep the ball down. It’s imperative. They got their runs off me early, but I still kept going after them. … That was something in the past I probably would’ve let get to me instead of keeping my composure, staying loose and staying relaxed.”

The situation he kept coming back to was the fifth, when he lost Kinsler from an 0-2 count to a one-out walk ahead of Michael Young’s double to put runners at second and third. He got Hamilton to chase a two-seamer down early in the count for a groundout with the infield in, then induced Hank Blalock to pop out on the next pitch.

“That could’ve easily went the other way. Fly ball, that’s another run. Base hit, that’s two runs.”

Jim Leyland liked the fact that Jackson came back out after that fifth-inning jam and retired the side in order in the sixth in relatively short order, giving them an extra inning before having to go to the bullpen.

“That last inning he was out there, he showed me why he’s a warrior, and why he’s going to be an excellent pitcher for us,” Leyland said. “He ate that extra inning for us, really got pumped up and took it up a notch. That was good tonic.”

Leyland said before the game that he’d like to get Justin Verlander to the point where they can count on getting seven innings consistently from him, hoping within the next handful of starts. It’s still early, but Jackson is shaping up as that kind of pitcher for them right now.

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