July 9, 2014 at 7:36 pm

Tigers' Austin Jackson, hitting leadoff, seeks his 'spot' in order

Detroit — Austin Jackson doesn’t care if he hits leadoff, fifth or ninth, or anywhere in between.

Really, it doesn’t matter to him.

What does matter?

“I definitely like to hit in a spot,” Jackson said. “It’s just something that I think, when you’re playing every day, you kind of get used to have that spot where you’re going to bat each and every day.”

Right now, that spot is leadoff for Jackson, as Tigers manager Brad Ausmus searches for a way to get his center fielder hitting again.

Jackson’s return to leadoff has had mixed results. He’s had some multi-hit games during the experiment, which now is more than a week old. He’s also had some 0-fors.

Wednesday was one of the good days. He led off the Tigers first inning with a triple and scored, then he led off the eighth inning with a double and scored.

It almost was a flashback to the last few years. The leadoff hitter under former manager Jim Leyland, ahead of this offseason’s trade for Ian Kinsler, when Jackson got on base, he was scoring — and the Tigers, so often, were winning.

That’s exactly what happened Wednesday, as the Tigers beat the Dodgers, 4-1, to complete a sweep.

In Tuesday’s 14-5 victory, Jackson was the only Tigers starter without a hit, but he did have a walk, was hit by a pitch and had a sacrifice fly.

Ausmus and Jackson have sat down in recent weeks to discuss where Jackson is most comfortable. And Jackson gave Ausmus the same message he’s given reporters: Doesn’t matter, just pick a spot.

And moving forward, that spot will be No. 1 — in hopes a hitter of Jackson’s stature can shake the struggles that have him batting .245 just ahead of the All-Star break.

“So far, I think the returns are pretty good,” Ausmus said. “He doesn’t look overmatched. Pitchers aren’t beating him.

“He’s getting on base and scoring runs. He looks comfortable.”

Familiar situation

Joe Nathan got the save Wednesday, in his first save opportunity since June 28.

A victim of circumstance — the Tigers haven’t played many close games lately, at least not close games they were leading in the ninth inning — Nathan hasn’t pitched in many stressful situations lately.

That’s not to say he hasn’t pitched. Nathan threw an inning in a 9-3 victory over the A’s on July 2, and in a 7-3 loss to the Rays on Sunday.

And Nathan appreciates Ausmus hasn’t forgotten about him or Joba Chamberlain down in the bullpen.

That can be easy to do, actually, when the perfect setup or closing situations aren’t popping up.

“They’ve done a pretty good job of getting me out there consistently,” Nathan said. “I know it’s not the same situation, but anytime you take the hill, we can use that as quality time.

“Even those games, whether it be a losing affair of a game that’s gotten out of hand, those were huge games for me to continue to go out there and work on this (arm) angle that I’m changing up a little bit. For them to continue to keep our schedules as consistent as they can through this drought of save opportunities kind of helps.”

Chamberlain and Nathan each went 1-2-3 in their innings Wednesday, each recording two strikeouts — Nathan’s on high 93-mph fastball and on a nasty slider.

Around the horn

While Nathan was cruising through the ninth inning, a large Tigers crowd urged him on with “Let’s Go Joe” chants — a far cry from earlier this season, when he was getting booed off the mound.

While Nathan smiled at the mention of the chants, he insists he tunes out all noise on the periphery.

“From what I’ve heard, there’s usually some boos and usually some cheers,” Nathan said. “For me, it’s just about getting three outs.”

… Asked by reporters if Justin Verlander/Max Scherzer was the best 1-2 pitching combo the Dodgers had faced this year, Wednesday’s losing pitcher Zack Greinke said no. He gives the nod to the Reds duo of Johnny Cueto and Alfredo Simon.

… In Lakeland, Florida, the Detroit Free Press caught up with still-rehabbing Tigers reliever Joel Hanrahan, who acknowledged being frustrated by the pace of his progress. “Fortunately we’ve been playing well,” Hanrahan said. “It’s a situation where I want to get there and feel what it’s like to pitch in Detroit.”

… Thursday is the last day to cast All-Star Game “Final Vote” ballots, and there’s now added incentive to vote for Tigers starter Rick Porcello. For every Twitter vote he receives before 4 p.m., he’ll donate 21 cents to the Boys and Girls Club of America, up to $21,000. Porcello, of course, wears No. 21.

… The Tigers won the season series against the Dodgers, 3-1. They split a two-game set in April in L.A.

On deck: Royals

Series: Four games, Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City, Mo.

First pitch: 8:10 p.m. Thursday-Friday, 7:10 p.m. Saturday, 2:10 p.m. Sunday

TV/radio: All games on FSD/97.1, 1270

Probables: Thursday – LHP Drew Smyly (4-8, 3-89) vs. RHP Jeremy Guthrie (5-7, 4.02); Friday – RHP Anibal Sanchez (5-3, 3.18) vs. LHP Danny Duffy (5-8, 2.86); Saturday – RHP Rick Porcello (11-5, 3.53) vs. RHP James Shields (9-4, 3.71); Sunday — RHP Justin Verlander (8-7, 4.84) vs. TBA

Scouting report

* Smyly, Tigers: It’s been a rough go of it lately for Smyly, who began June with four quality starts. But since, he has allowed nine runs over his last eight innings, spanning two tough outings.

* Guthrie, Royals: He was pretty nasty against the Tigers on June 18, allowed just four hits and one run in 623 innings. Not a strikeout pitcher, he still whiffed nine Tigers that day.


The Tigers' Austin Jackson leads off with a triple in the first inning Wednesday at Comerica Park in Detroit. / Robin Buckson / Detroit News