Jackson stays hot, Tigers top Royals

DETROIT — Three Tigers are going to the All-Star Game in Kansas City next week.

By this point, just about everyone in baseball knows that it should be four.

Saturday, in case anyone still had doubts, Austin Jackson simply had three more hits, then saved the Tigers and Jose Valverde with two outstanding defensive plays in the ninth inning.

The offense came first. After the Royals started the game with two runs in the first, Jackson started the bottom of the inning with a single and scored on Prince Fielder’s homer. He singled again in the second, and again in the fourth.

The 3-for-5 day moved his batting average to .335 and extended his hitting streak to a career-best 14 games. Since June 24, he’s hitting .417 with seven extra-base hits and eight RBI. Not coincidentally, in the same stretch, the Tigers have been able to get over .500 for the first time since May 10.

Jackson, of course, didn’t want to jinx his hitting streak.

“I don’t want to talk about that,” he joked. “I don’t know what it is. I’m just trying to get the ball in play and get on base, because the guys behind me can drive me in.”

However, as everyone knows, Jackson’s ability to help Detroit win goes far beyond his offensive skills. In the ninth inning, with Valverde having another meltdown, Jackson single-handedly saved the game with his world-class range.

“I think I probably take more pride in my defense — trying to keep the other team from scoring,” he said. “I like helping finish off a game like that.”

Valverde had already allowed two runs, pulling the Royals within 8-6, and the tying runs were on base when Yuniesky Betancourt ripped a line drive toward the flagpole in left-centerfield. Royals manager Ned Yost thought his team had either tied the game or gone ahead, but Jackson sprinted over to grab the ball just before it hit the wall.

“I thought the worst-case scenario on that play was that it gets up the gap and we’re tied,” Yost said. “I was hoping it had enough to get out, but I thought it was going to at least be a double.

“Austin Jackson, though, is just a phenomenal center fielder, and he got over there and caught the ball.”

Yost’s opinion of Jackson didn’t change on the next play, when Mike Moustakas hit a sinking liner that looked like a guaranteed RBI single. Jackson, though, picked the ball off the top of the grass, turning the play into a sacrifice fly.

“I thought the first one was hit too hard for him to make the play, and I didn’t think the second one was hit hard enough for him to make a play,” a frustrated Yost said. “He got them both. There’s not many places to hit the ball out there where he can’t get it.”

Valverde finished with an ugly pitching line – three runs in one inning, raising his ERA to 4.11 – but he knew whom to thank for making sure he didn’t also get a loss.

“That guy is awesome,” he said.


Leyland announced after the game that Doug Fister, who got the win Saturday, will start Detroit’s first game after the All-Star break. He’ll go Friday in Baltimore, followed by Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander.

“He’s getting closer and closer,” Leyland said. “He says he’s healthy, and I want to continue building his arm up, so he’ll start the first game after the break.”

Fister wasn’t spectacular against the Royals, allowing four runs in six innings, but it was much better than his previous two starts. Against the Rangers and the Twins, he had allowed 15 runs on 17 hits in just 8 1-3 innings.

“It’s a step in the right direction, but there’s obviously still some fine-tuning that needs to be done,” he said. “I missed some locations, and they made me pay for it, but I just have to stick with my game plan and trust my stuff.”