TOLEDO, Ohio — A relaxed Austin Jackson sat in the Mud Hens clubhouse and watched the final innings of the Tigers’ 6-5 loss in Cincinnati on Friday night.
On Saturday, he’ll be with them.
Jackson, who has been out since May 17 with an abdominal strain, played two complete games with the Mud Hens on his rehabilitation assignment and did everything he needed to do to prove he was healthy.
It hasn’t been easy for Jackson to miss so much time.
“It felt like forever,” he said. “It’s tough just sitting back, watching. But at the same time, you need that rest to kind of let it heal.”
On Thursday night, Jackson went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. He was 1-for-4 with a walk on Friday.
“I feel pretty good,” Jackson said. “It was good to get back out there and run around a little bit.
“Got a chance to see some pitches and also swing without any pain, so that’s a good sign. That’s what I came here for, to just kind of get the timing back and run around a little bit.”
Mud Hens manager Phil Nevin said it was actually a good thing for Jackson to strike out Thursday in his first game.
“I know it’s going to sound funny, but you want to see him swing and miss and kind of get fooled on a pitch because that’s really how that happens,” Nevin said. “You get out front and stretch that muscle.
“He did that in his first at-bat yesterday, and I think that helped him get comfortable — knowing that he’s healthy and that he was able to play, get his timing down.”
Jackson agreed that striking out was kind of a threshold for him to cross before returning to the Tigers.
“I was obviously not happy that I missed, but at the same time, I was glad that I didn’t feel any pain when I did do it,” Jackson said. “It was a good thing that I was able to swing, get out front, similar to how I hurt it, without any pain.”
Nevin also thought it was good that Jackson attempted to steal a base Friday, even though he was not successful.
“I told him, ‘You get on base, you’ve got a green light, go ahead,'” Nevin said. “So it was good to see.
“I know he got thrown out — the pitcher sped up a little bit and the catcher made a heck of a throw — (but) he’s ready to go.”
Another thing that Jackson needed to be able to do without pain was run. That got checked off the list in Toledo, as well.
I had no pain with that,” Jackson said. “So that’s another good sign, that I was able to run freely, get up to 100 percent without any pain.”
Adam Wilk, who pitched a complete game Friday but was in the clubhouse Thursday charting the game, thought Jackson looked like himself in the outfield.
“He’s just flying across the outfield,” Wilk said. “He’s covering a lot of ground.
“Our field isn’t as big as it is in Detroit, but it looks like he’s definitely going to be able to cover that ground again.”
Before the injury, Jackson was batting .331 with 10 doubles, two triples, five home runs and 17 RBIs.
He’s not expecting to be quite at that level immediately.
“I think it’s going to be something that I’m going to have to kind of get it on the go a little bit,” Jackson said. “It really didn’t feel that bad out there (Friday). I was actually seeing the ball a lot better than I was (Thursday).”
Jackson has had a chance to see his team struggle while he was sitting with the injury. Now he hopes to be able to help the Tigers get to where they hoped to be.
“That’s just how it is sometimes,” he said. “You need some things to kind of go your way, and as of late, things haven’t really been going our way. We haven’t been catching those breaks.
“But at the same time, you gotta look at the season as a whole. It’s not a sprint; it’s a marathon.”