Leading off at leadoff: Austin Jackson
What if the Tigers signed Johnny Damon to help out the top of their batting order, and ended up batting rookie Austin Jackson up there anyway?
It’s not as far-fetched as you might think.
Though manager Jim Leyland said Wednesday he still hasn’t written out a set lineup and still doesn’t know what he’ll do with his top two spots, he sounded a little more committed than before to the idea of batting Jackson up top.
Jackson will get the first crack at leading off in Spring Training, as Leyland hinted at before. But he also sounded a little more confident that Jackson fits there.
“I’d like Jackson to lead off, if I could,” Leyland said. “I’m really kind of looking for a two hitter. But I think Jackson — if he’s here, and you’re going to play him some — he’s probably got to lead off. Probably, as we stand right now. But I don’t know that for a fact. We’ll find out.”
Admittedly, when he said that, he wasn’t including Damon in the thought process. As Leyland put it, “I don’t ever anticipate we’re going to get somebody.”
But he sure sounded like he was coming around on Jackson as a fit up there. And he definitely sounded like finding a No. 2 hitter, as the roster stands now, is a tougher decision for him.
“I have to figure out some kind of a two-hole hitter,” Leyland said. “I don’t know how that’s going to work out, unless you change our style of play. You hate to do it, although I think the game’s getting back to it, where the smaller things are meaning more again.
“Maybe you move some runners early on or something with the second hitter. Maybe you don’t just slug it like you do sometimes. Polanco was so good because he could drag a bunt or hit in the hole or hit-and-run or hit a home run. He was a really professional hitter.”
Maybe that’s something rookie Scott Sizemore can do. Maybe it’s something Adam Everett could do. Or maybe, if Johnny Damon does come to Detroit, it’s something he does.
Don’t read Leyland’s comments on the game changing, though, and figure that he’s angling towards it.
“I’m not saying I’m going to do that,” Leyland said. “I don’t want to do that.”
One thing for certain is that both Jackson and Sizemore, as long as they’re healthy, are going to get a lot of playing time this spring. It isn’t just about getting them acclimated to the big leagues as much as you can in Spring Training. It’s about Leyland and the coaching staff seeing them enough to judge them.
“I’ve never been a big Spring Training judge,” Leyland said, “but you have to do what you have to do.”