LAKELAND, Fla. — Austin Jackson had a season to savor in 2012. He bounced back from a subpar sophomore performance to light up the American League once again.
Jackson hit .300, scored 103 runs and had 29 doubles, 10 triples, 16 homers and a career-high 66 RBIs. The fleet center fielder came close to garnering both All-Star and Gold Glove recognition.
Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland was asked what he wanted to see from Jackson, 26, in his fourth season.
“Just to maintain,” Leyland said. “If Austin Jackson does what he did last year and added a few extra stolen bases, I’d be a happy man.”
Steals is the lone area where Jackson’s game has declined. His stolen bases continued to drop, from 27 as a rookie to 22 in 2011 and only 12 last season.
Also of concern was his getting thrown out nine times on attempts for a poor .571 success rate. Jackson was thrown out just 11 times in his first two seasons combined, when he totaled 49 steals and was safe on .817 percent of his attempts.
Now, this is a bit like complaining about your room at a luxury hotel being too close to the elevator or ice machine. But it gives Jackson something to improve on in an already pleasing line of statistics.
Leyland said Jeff Cox, a base-running consultant, was hired in part to assist Jackson in upping his stolen base output.
Still, when reporters spoke with Jackson about this on Monday morning, he was a bit ambivalent about the need to steal more bases. Jackson noted that he has a row of RBI machines behind him in the batting order: Torii Hunter, Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Victor Martinez.
“You’ve got those guys batting behind you,” Jackson said, while shrugging his shoulders. “They can win the game with one swing. I didn’t feel I needed to (steal).”
Leyland admitted that there are plenty of times not to run with that kind of lumber coming up to bat. Why risk taking a potential run off the bases with a bevy of power hitters lined up?
But I asked Jackson about the validity of stealing in the late innings of a game that is tied or when the Tigers are behind by one run.
“I don’t know,” Jackson said. “I just had a tough time with it last year.”
Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson, who tutored Jackson while he was in the New York Yankees organization, once told me that Jackson is a perfectionist. Getting thrown out bothers him, and Austin Jackson admits to that.
Last year, he said it helped playing with Quintin Berry because Berry’s aggressive nature on the bases could rub off on him. But Jackson still attempted only 21 steals.
Jackson said he’s worked some with Cox but added, “Later in the spring, we’ll probably get into it a little more.”
Cox has coached for several major league teams and was the third-base coach for the Chicago White Sox, 2008-2011.
“I just try to pick a good spot if I go,” Jackson said. BOESCH IMPROVING
Outfielder Brennan Boesch missed workouts on Monday for a second consecutive day with a “tweaked” oblique muscle.
“He’s feeling better today,” Leyland said. “I don’t know what that means, but he’s feeling better.”
PORCELLO, SANCHEZ, VERLANDER TO START
Leyland said that Rick Porcello would start Friday’s Grapefruit League opener in Lake Buena Vista against the Atlanta Braves.
Anibal Sanchez goes in the home opener Saturday in Lakeland against the Toronto Blue Jays, and Justin Verlander starts Sunday in Lakeland against the Philadelphia Phillies.
Doug Fister, Sanchez and Drew Smyly threw batting practice Monday on a cool afternoon. Porcello threw his first batting practice session on Sunday, and Verlander is scheduled for his first session on Wednesday. Max Schezer will be the last of the six starters to throw batting practice.
“Max is going to throw one more bullpen session and then batting practice,” Leyland said.
Asked if all of the pitchers are fine arm-wise, Leyland said, “So far, so good. We’re watching some of the guys. We’re not going to baby ‘em, but we’re not going to kill ‘em.”
He added that the early start to spring training because of the World Baseball Classic and the heavy workload of some pitchers influenced his decision to start them slowly.
Verlander led the majors in innings pitched for the third time in four seasons in 2012 with 238 1/3 innings. Scherzer was second on the team with 187 2/3 innings.