Scott Sizemore had two hits, including an RBI-double in the seventh inning to help spark the Tigers to a late comeback victory on Tuesday. (John T. Greilick / The Detroit News)
Suddenly, another of the Tigers' cubs bears watching.
Austin Jackson has been the bright light as two rookies, who replaced two billboard players, cracked the Tigers' lineup at positions that aren't always kind to kids: center field and second base.
Jackson has started niftily: .306 batting average after Tuesday's zany 6-5 victory over the Kansas City Royals at Comerica Park. He has made a sack-full of plays in center and has blazed around the bases, two more reasons manager Jim Leyland's 23-year-old leadoff man has been key to Detroit's 6-2 start.
Sizemore had a huge RBI double Tuesday to go with a single, a sacrifice bunt, and a fly out to the warning track in right field. He is batting .316 and has, in his manager's view, "done fine" defending second base.
Sizemore, of course, was told last autumn he would be replacing Placido Polanco, which wasn't about to make him any instant fans among a Tigers crowd that worshiped Polanco. Jackson had the same no-win assignment this spring. He was anointed as Curtis Granderson's successor. From a self-esteem perspective, it was like walking on stage after Elvis Presley had left the building.
But both rookies have played impressive baseball eight games into the season, with Sizemore catching fire in his last two games, going 5-for-8 with two doubles and three RBIs.
This is not necessarily headline news as far as the Tigers are concerned. They might not have predicted .316, but the book on Sizemore has always been that he is a hitter. He batted .307 last spring at Double A. He was promoted to Triple A at mid-season and batted .308.
He was at .368 after six games in the Arizona Fall League, where baseball's elite prospects hang out, when he broke his leg last October. Bad luck for Sizemore, and for the Tigers, who were hoping to put some luster on Sizemore ahead of this season's promotion.
Seriously and quietly, he has been adjusting as the Tigers' new Polanco. Even after Tuesday's crazy victory, Sizemore was pretty much being left alone as he dressed at his locker. He was asked if he could give a Cliff's notes version of his first eight games in the majors.
"It's kind of tough to summarize," said Sizemore, 25, who, like Jackson, hadn't played a day in the big leagues before his promotion. "Early on, I was a little overwhelmed, just trying to slow the game down. But I've felt pretty good, just working with Raffie (Rafael Belliard, infield coach), trying to stay in a routine."
Hitting-wise, routines are easier to follow when you have Sizemore's swing. It is celebrated as one of those "short-stroke" attacks that stays on plane. Guys with longer swings might hit the ball further, but Sizemore's edge is that he follows a tighter flight plan.
Add to that the touch he has in laying off bad pitches, and now you know why the Tigers felt comfortable in handing him Polanco's job.
He was asked to talk about the different levels of pitching he has seen in the past 12 months, from Erie, to Toledo, to Detroit. It has always been said that a prospect who can hit at Double A can find his way to the big leagues. Sizemore proved it, graduating to Triple A, and then to Detroit.
"The thing I noticed last year," he said, "was that at Double A you had the real good arms with starters. The bullpen guys weren't as fine-tuned.
"Then I got to Toledo, and the starters didn't so much have dominant stuff, but were more savvy. It was the bullpen guys who threw cheese, who could really bring it.
"Up here -- everyone's good."
Then again, the second baseman, same as his young buddy in center field, isn't chopped liver. It's early, and kids are unpredictable, but much like the guy who's doing a neat job in Granderson's stead, Sizemore is making a difference nine days into the big-league gig.
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