Houston — The Tigers’ experiment to hit Austin Jackson somewhere other than leadoff could be over.
That’s true — despite four strikeouts and grounding into a double play on Sunday upon his return to the top spot in the lineup in the Tigers’ 6-4 loss to the Astros.
With Ian Kinsler getting a day off after hitting the game-winning home run on Saturday night, and Rajai Davis not in the starting lineup, manager Brad Ausmus not only installed Jackson at leadoff for the first time this season, but said he could stay there with a good game.
Ausmus said, however, a good game could translate into just looking comfortable.
Plus, Ausmus hinted after the game that just one game might not be a fair enough test.
It’s been difficult for the Tigers to find the right spot in the batting order for Jackson this season, once they decided to hit him elsewhere than the leadoff spot he occupied for his first four seasons as a Tiger.
Before Sunday, Jackson had started games at four different spots in the batting order: 32 games at sixth, where he’s been his most productive with three home runs and 12 RBIs, but where he’s hit just .222.
■ 22 games at fifth, where he hit .301 but had just six RBIs in 83 at-bats.
■ Nine games at seventh where he’s hit .294.
■ And six games at second where he’s batting .136.
But the biggest problem is that no matter where he’s hit in the lineup, he has struggled at the plate for more than a month.
Since May 12, when Jackson was hitting .301 — and when the decision to make him a middle-of-the-lineup hitter looked like it was paying off — Jackson has batted just .201 with one home run and 11 RBIs in 149 at-bats.
The Tigers look at him as far too valuable a player to have him struggling like that — which is why Ausmus is keeping an open mind about putting him back in the top spot.
“We’re trying to get him going,” Ausmus said before the game. “He’s still been having good at-bats, but the hits aren’t always falling.
“I hope he goes 3-for-4 and I end up having to leave him there.”
Which Ausmus would be open to?
“Yes,” he said. “I firmly believe we need Austin Jackson (contributing).”
After the game Jackson said it doesn’t matter to him where he hits, he’s just looking for “good at-bats, but it’s a tough game.”
Ausmus said Jackson was the “most likely candidate to hit leadoff” based on who was in the starting lineup, and not in the starting lineup, on Sunday.
“But if he looks comfortable and has good at-bats, I would certainly consider putting him back there again.
“As we said in spring training, if Austin hits like he has in previous years, we’ll be in good shape.”
Ausmus will be happy to see Alan Trammell today when the 1984 Tigers’ team observes the 30th anniversary of its World Series championship.
Not only was Ausmus a teammate of Trammell’s on the 1996 Tigers, Trammell’s last year as a player, but they used to live within easy walking distance of each other in the San Diego area.
“Even now in the offseason, we go to lunch once or twice,” Ausmus said. “The word that comes to mind, and always has, with Tram is ‘professionalism’ — plus he’s one of the nicest guys you’ll ever want to meet.”
On the heels of Kinsler’s game-winning three-run home run on Saturday night, and also with Kinsler on an eight-game hitting streak, Ausmus felt it was a good time to give his second baseman his second day off of the season.
He also said that he plans to give one soon to Miguel Cabrera, who went 0-for-13 against the Astros.
“You don’t ever want to take good players out of the lineup,” Ausmus said. “As much as I want them in the lineup every single day, the guys have to get a rest.
“But they’re both the same. Neither one will tell me they need a day, it’s more about me approaching them.”
A day off when a hitter is hot, said Ausmus, can often be better timing than when he’s cold. That’s why the manager didn’t think Sunday was bad timing for Kinsler.
“You’d be surprised,” Ausmus said, “a lot of times players prefer a day after they do something well. It’s easier to mentally shut down and just watch a game.
“But when you do something badly, or have a bad game, you want to come back right away to atone for it.”
Oakland Athletics at Detroit Tigers
Series: Three games at Comerica Park
First pitch: 7:08 p.m., Monday and Tuesday; 1:08 p.m., Wednesday.
TV/Radio: FSD/1270-AM and 97.1-FM, Monday and Wednesday; same on Tuesday, but also with MLBN.
Probables: Monday night, LHP Scott Kazmir (9-3, 2.66) vs. RHP Anibal Sanchez (5-2, 2.64); Tuesday night, LHP Brad Mills (1-0, 4.35) vs. RHP Rick Porcello (10-4, 3.41); Wednesday, RHP Jesse Chavez (6-4, 2.94) vs. RHP Justin Verlander (6-7, 4.80).
Kazmir, A’s: Coming off bad start in 10-1 loss to Mets, but in previous five starts, he was 4-0 with a 1.27 ERA.
Sanchez, Tigers: Still pitching well, still not losing. He’s 5-0 in nine starts with a 2.30 ERA since April 26.