Sunday, April 8, 2012

Austin Jackson Getting Hot For Tigers After Big Weekend

By Sean Gagnier

Austin Jackson has never been knocked for lack of range in center field, it seems as if any ball that is hit into the outfield will have Jackson under it before it hits the ground. But after a stellar rookie season, he struggled with the bat last year and his strikeout totals ballooned. The Tigers hoped that it was simply a sophomore slump and not signs of his true ability - and it looks like that is the case.

In the offseason Jackson worked with Detroit hitting coach Llyod McClendon to change his hitting stance to attempt to cut down on his strikeouts and improve his average. The new stance and swing eliminated Jackson's leg lift as the ball closed in on the plate and emphasized choking up on the bat in two-strike counts.

Jackson has taken to these changes well, and his average reflects that. On Sunday, Jackson went 4-for-6 and on the season is hitting .571. Although the season in still very young, that number is impressive but almost as impressive is that Jackson has struck out just three times while drawing two walks.

What isn't shown in those numbers are the times when he works a pitcher for five or more pitches before ultimately heading back to the dugout, while he may not reach base his new found patience and approach at the plate is allowing him to fatigue pitchers for the big boppers behind him in the order.

In what should have been a headline day for Justin Verlander, Jackson stole the front page by hitting a walk-off RBI single to win Opening Day for the Tigers over the Boston Red Sox. While not as majestic as a walk-off home run his teammates celebrated Jackson's first career walk-off as if he had put the ball over the fence.

The leadoff man is the engine that powers a ball club. And Jackson is proving that he can be quite a powerful engine thus-far in the 2012 campaign. He continues to prowl center field with the best of them, despite never leaving his feet to make a catch. And if his bat continues to be hot this season he could be in line for the first of many Gold Glove awards.

By eliminating the leg lift from his hitting stance Jackson is able to focus more on the ball as it gets closer to him and decide what to do with it. When he would leg kick, it would almost force him, through shear momentum to swing at the pitch.

With this new found control at the plate, Jackson is now able to make better decisions on pitches. Should he swing at it, should he attempt to foul it off or let it go by altogether. The improvements made by McClendon with Jackson will allow him to develop into the ballplayer that the Tigers believe he truly can become.  

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