By Ashley Dunkak
COMERICA PARK (CBS DETROIT) – Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland wanted to get Austin Jackson away from the pressure of the leadoff spot, and he apparently wanted to get Jackson out of the media spotlight as well.
He moved Jackson to eighth and scooted everyone else up a spot, putting 2012 Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera second and Prince Fielder – who has yet to hit an RBI this postseason – in the third spot. He defended the moves vigorously.
“I did what I thought was the right thing to do, and I really wanted to give you guys something to write about and talk about,” Leyland said, sending his audience into laughs. “This should be really a good time for you. You can say I’m crazy, you can say I’m nuts, you can say I’m dumb, you can say whatever the hell you want.
“But the fact of the matter is it does give you something to write about other than the fact that Jackson struck out 18 times and blah, blah, blah, Leyland needs to do something,” the skipper continued. “Well here it is, have a good time with it. We’ll see how it plays out, and I will be willing to answer the questions after the game.”
Known for an old-school, conservative approach, a proponent of the stick-with-what-got-you-here mentality, Leyland’s changes of the lineup are fairly drastic in general but particularly unexpected coming from him. If any situation called for it, though, trying to advance to the World Series would be it.
“We’ve got to try to get on the board somehow, and we know we live with extra-base hits and home runs because there’s not much speed up there,” Leyland said. “The speed that was up there was not getting on base.”
“I really thought about this long and hard last night,” Leyland added. “We’ve scored one run and no runs in two of the games, so it certainly can’t hurt, so we’re going to take a shot. When guys look at the lineup card, they kind of look at it a little bit, and maybe it wakes you up a little bit … just a little something to churn up the butter a little bit.”
The churning starts with the leadoff spot, with the hitter who gets on base more than anyone else. For most of the season, Jackson hit leadoff. In eight postseason games, Jackson has just three hits and a whopping 18 strikeouts. Moving him down in the lineup made sense to Leyland.
“I think I’m actually doing Austin Jackson a favor,” Leyland said. “He’s getting kicked around pretty good right now. I think it’s easy to kick people when they’re down. I’m not taking him out of the lineup, so I am sticking with him.”
“Jackson’s had some success against [Red Sox pitcher Jake] Peavy, Donny [Kelly] has not,” Leyland added. “Maybe just get him away from it a little bit, the magnitude of that lead-off spot and hopefully relax him a little bit.”
While Jackson’s lack of performance might have catalyzed the dramatic change, the lineup as a whole has struggled mightily in the ALCS. The mediocre production from Prince Fielder, he of the monster contract, is particularly glaring.
Leyland explained why he moved Fielder – hitting .276 with no RBIs – to third instead of Victor Martinez, who is .419 in this postseason.
“I put Victor behind instead of Victor third because Victor can score Prince but if you put Miggy and Victor right back to back, then you’re talking about two guys you would have to pinch-run for, maybe not be able to knock one of them in, so that’s why that’s set up like that,” Leyland said.
Leyland acknowledged that while not everyone – and he included fans and media – agreed on what had to change, everyone knew something had to.
“This is one thing that we both agree on,” Leyland said. “We had to do something. We had to shake it up a little bit.”
“It’s a little bit of a shocker,” Leyland added, “but hey, it’s postseason. Let’s try something.”