Cleveland — You can look at Austin Jackson in so many ways. And just about everyone, including Austin Jackson, does.
He was scorching pitches during spring camp (.429 batting average) and kept it up in April (.307). He promptly batted .200 in May and looked like the Austin Jackson who can occasionally disappear from earth’s atmosphere.
But in the two weeks preceding Friday night’s game against the Indians at Progressive Field, Jackson was batting .341. After his 1-for-5 night Friday, he sits at .252 with a light OPS of .689.
“It’s really just baseball,” Jackson said Friday, as he sorted through batting gloves stashed in his locker within the Tigers clubhouse. “There have been times when I haven’t felt good at the plate and I’ve gotten hits, and times when I’ve felt good and had nothing to show for it.
“That’s how it is. As long as I can have a consistent approach, I’ll be OK.”
That, however, tends to be the issue with Jackson. He is not a paragon of consistency. He has had good seasons (2010 and 2012) and not-so-good (2011 and 2013). He is having a lukewarm 2014.
Neither has his swing — or, more accurately, his left-foot trigger — been uniform. He has used a big leg-kick and a toe-tap. He has gone with a short, “quiet” foundation. Sometimes he has opted for variations on all of the above, which has been the case in 2014.
It is something he and hitting coach Wally Joyner continually analyze. The mission toward building a repeatable, pitch-crushing swing of the kind he displayed during the early weeks of spring continues.
“In spring training, he looked outstanding,” Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said Friday. “He didn’t have much of a leg kick.”
So, that, apparently, is the answer. Shorten Jackson’s path to the pitch by shortening his approach.
“You’ve always got to make some adjustments, and I’ve made some minor adjustments,” said Jackson, who doesn’t care to overly analyze his swing and stride.
“It’s a long season. A lot of things change,” he said, before repeating an earlier thought. “There are times you feel good up there and you have nothing to show for it.
“You come to the field every day hoping you can control the controlables. But it’s easier said than done.”
His team would agree. The Tigers have been even more up and down than Jackson in 2014. Some would say the two are linked — that when Jackson is cooking so is his team.
The Tigers center fielder, now in his fifth season in Detroit, isn’t sure there is a profound connection there. But there is a certain befuddlement on his part as he looks at the Tigers in 2014 and at their split personality. The team was so good early and has been so bad of late.
“It makes you scratch your head sometimes,” he said. “But look around at the rest of the league. Some of these teams are coming off stretches where they’ve won nine in a row, or 10 in a row.
“We’ve been catching some hot teams (the Royals had won 10 straight before losing Thursday to the Tigers) when they’ve been playing well.
“We’re still in a good position.”
Jackson’s defense is about where it has been in recent seasons, according to big league baseball’s defensive statistics: sixth among all big league center fielders in range, with the 16th-best fielding percentage.
Jackson’s work in center, by no means sub-par, has been part of a general outfield performance that has not been as polished as was forecast for 2014.
“I didn’t know that,” Jackson said when it was suggested Detroit’s foul-line-to-foul-line defense had not matched previews. “I know I’ve made some errors, and that’s part of the game.
“But I didn’t know things had been that bad. I don’t know why anyone would say that.”
In fact, there has been no indictment of Jackson. But it’s like so many things in 2014 that have pertained to a Tigers center fielder and to his team. It has simply been an unsteady year of baseball in Detroit. For a team. And, at least as his offense would be measured, for a 27-year-old center fielder upon whom so much of a team’s prowess and playoff hopes rest.