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Published: Sunday, 3/28/2010

A new chapter: Talented Jackson looks to make own mark

Austin Jackson, scoring during an exhibition game against the Nationals, was sent from the Yankees to the Tigers in a trade that saw Curtis Granderson go to New York. He will be starting in center field in the opener on April 6. Austin Jackson, scoring during an exhibition game against the Nationals, was sent from the Yankees to the Tigers in a trade that saw Curtis Granderson go to New York. He will be starting in center field in the opener on April 6.
CHARLIE RIEDEL / AP Enlarge

LAKELAND, Fla. - Austin Jackson says it is something he tries not to think about. But it isn't easy. Out of sight, out of mind isn't always possible in baseball.

The Detroit Tigers, Jackson's new team, played the New York Yankees for the fourth time this spring Saturday at Joker Marchant Stadium. The teams play again today in Tampa. They are scheduled to meet eight times during the regular season.

And, more likely than not, as was the case Saturday, Curtis Granderson will trot out to play center field for the Yankees in those games.

Curtis Granderson, everybody's favorite Tiger. Remember the infectious smile, the energy, the personality, the speed, all those extra base hits, the intensity, all those defensive gems up against and over the wall? There have been plenty of stars on the field for Detroit the past few years, but none shone brighter than Granderson in the opinion of many Tigers fans.

And then, shockingly, he was traded - and to the hated Yankees, no less. Jackson traveled the other direction in that deal, and come opening day in Kansas City on April 6, he will play in his first major league game, starting in center and leading off for Detroit.

"I'm definitely looking forward to that," the 23-year-old Jackson said yesterday. "I don't feel any pressure. It's the same game I've been playing for a long time, just at a different level. It's an opportunity I've been waiting for.

"But I can't worry about being the next Curtis Granderson. I try to keep that out of my mind and not think about it. I just want to be me."

Being Austin Jackson has been plenty good since he reported to Lakeland and donned the Olde English D.

"He's a wonderful kid, to start with," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "He has made a great impression. He's been making all the plays, and he hasn't been swinging at bad pitches."

But Leyland knows he is a baby and will take a paternal approach with this budding talent.

"I just want Austin to go show his talent," Leyland said. "I'll nurse him along a little. I'm not just going to throw him to the wolves. I'll take care of him if I have to."

A .288 hitter in five minor league seasons, Jackson feels the Tigers and hitting coach Lloyd McClendon have already been taking care of him just fine.

Jackson has restored a little leg kick at the plate, something the Yankees discouraged after he became prone to strikeouts a couple seasons ago.

"So we made the change, they took the kick away, and I struck out the same amount of the time," Jackson said, smiling.

Jackson feels tweaks like this are normal when a player changes organizations.

"Different coaches have different philosophies," he said. "The Yankees like guys to hit with their weight on the back leg. Look at

A-Rod [Alex Rodriguez] and [Derek] Jeter. Those are always the examples used over there.

"Now, I come to Detroit and they have totally different kinds of hitters, Magglio [Ordonez] and [Carlos] Guillen, for example. McClendon teaches that your weight should be a little more forward, and I can do that better with a kick right when the pitcher releases the ball.

"So I've been a lot more comfortable at the plate since going back to that. And I've been able to take it from the [batting] cage to the game."

Jackson went 0-for-3 with a walk yesterday, losing a few points off what had been an eye-popping .358 spring average. Granderson came in hitting .273 for the Yankees but drove in a first-inning run with a double down the right-field line. With Jeter and Rodriguez skipping the trip to Lakeland, he was batting fifth in the order.

At the time of the trade, it appeared the Tigers were engaged in a salary dump after a season-ending collapse in '09, although they've made a few moves since to perhaps dispel that.

It was no secret to insiders, though, that the Detroit front office had some concerns with Granderson's numbers. His power had increased, as evidenced by 30 home runs, but so had his strikeouts. Meanwhile, his batting average (.249) and on-base percentage continued to taper off last season, a trend every year since he'd become a starter in 2006.

So, the Tigers pulled the trigger on a controversial trade that will be far less so if Jackson continues to mature and continues to remind fans, as he has this spring, of a young Curtis Granderson.

Contact Blade sports columnist

Dave Hackenberg at:

dhack@theblade.com

or 419-724-6398.



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