Jackson gives Tigers' pitching a boost vs. Indians

BY foxsports • September 23, 2009

Before the Tigers opened a crucial series here Tuesday night, I asked Miguel Cabrera if he planned to follow the Twins on the out-of-town scoreboard at Progressive Field.


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"I'm not going to look no more," he insisted. "It doesn't matter what happens. We've got to win."

He's right, actually. Despite their flaws, despite recently falling flat against the Royals and Blue Jays and despite losing a weekend series in Minnesota, the Tigers lead the American League Central. If they win most of their remaining games, they will probably be at Yankee Stadium two weeks from Tuesday.

Tuesday was a start. They defeated the Indians, 3-1, meaning there was little reason to fret about the Twins' 8-6 win in Chicago. Their lead remained 2 ½ games. And they had Edwin Jackson, a hero in May, to thank for one of their biggest victories of September.

Jackson was an All-Star this year, even though he hadn't been pitching like one lately. He arrived in Cleveland with a 5.70 ERA over his past eight starts. People started talking less about the seemingly one-sided deal (Matt Joyce/Tampa Bay) that brought Jackson to Detroit and began wondering more about the toll a career-high workload was taking.

So, it was poignant that Jackson righted himself on the night he crossed the 200-inning threshold for the first time.

Jackson shut out the Indians over seven innings, even if he taxed his arm with a few too many two- and three-ball counts along the way. His slider looked sharper. His changeup returned from its sabbatical. His fastball reached 96, 97 and 98 miles per hour.

Sure, the opponent was a lousy team that has lost nine straight. But it was time for a Detroit starter to stand tall and win a ballgame — something that has happened exactly three times since Sept. 6.

"It's just imperative right now," Jackson said. "Every start we make right now is going to be a clutch start. We need innings out of all the starters, especially coming down the homestretch, to give our bullpen a little break.

"You have to leave it on the field. It's that time of year."

Jackson's early-season brilliance was a major reason Detroit established itself atop the division. His recent slide helped Minnesota climb back into the race.

It reached the point where I have wondered if left-hander Nate Robertson — injured or in the bullpen for much of the year — would be a better option than Jackson to start Game 2 of a potential first-round series against the Yankees.

But on Tuesday, Jackson provided new, strong evidence that he can be trusted in a big game.

"Huge," catcher Gerald Laird declared afterward. "He's one of the big reasons we're here. If he can get back on track, like he was, this is the time you want to get hot. If our pitching can get hot, and we score some runs, we're going to be a team that teams don't want to play. That's a good sign, to have him have an outing like this late in the year."

"Just what the doctor ordered," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "He pitched excellent."

Now, for a technical moment: Prior to Jackson's start, Detroit pitching coach Rick Knapp told the Detroit Free Press, "There's a word out that he's tipping pitches." So, Jackson adopted a change in his delivery during Sunday's bullpen session at the Metrodome. He said it "wasn't major."

Was he actually tipping his pitches? Jackson said he's not sure. Neither is Laird. No matter what, we can safely report that Jackson made an adjustment that helped him defeat the Cleveland Indians. Problem solved. For now. We think.

"A lot better today," Jackson said. "I'm still trying to get back in it. But for the most part, everything was where I wanted it to be — down in the zone."

So, perhaps the rotation has been fixed. But the lineup is still below par. Through seven innings on Tuesday, Ryan Raburn's 14th home run of the season accounted for the team's only scoring. Raburn, whose assist from left field snuffed out a run in the second, has had "a helluva year," as Leyland put it before the game. The same can't be said for most of the team's hitters.