Leyland set on batting Jackson leadoff
Skipper sees newly-signed Damon hitting second in lineup
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Johnny Damon said he used to follow around Austin Jackson in Yankees camp. Turns out after following Jackson to the Tigers, he'll be following Jackson in the lineup, too.
Detroit added an experienced leadoff hitter Monday by signing Damon, but he won't be leading off, at least not when the Tigers start their Spring Training schedule next week. Instead, what the Tigers might have just added was the No. 2 hitter that allows them to replace Placido Polanco and start Jackson at leadoff.
Those plans could change, manager Jim Leyland cautioned Monday. But for now, it's the plan.
"You think of Jackson's legs and Damon's legs in front of Magglio [Ordonez] and [Miguel] Cabrera and [Carlos] Guillen," Leyland said. "That's pretty attractive."
When Leyland talked last week about Jackson as his likely leadoff option, he didn't know for sure that Damon was coming to Detroit, but he had to have an idea. But when he threw his support behind Jackson at leadoff, it didn't sound conditional based on roster moves.
"I'd like Jackson to lead off, if I could," Leyland said last week. "I'm really kind of looking for a two-hitter. But I think Jackson -- if he's here, and you're going to play him some -- he's probably got to lead off."
But somebody has to hit behind him.
"I have to figure out some kind of a two-hole hitter," Leyland continued. "I don't know how that's going to work out, unless you change our style of play. You hate to do it, although I think the game's getting back to it, where the smaller things are meaning more again.
"Maybe you move some runners early on or something with the second hitter. Maybe you don't just slug it like you do sometimes. Polanco was so good because he could drag a bunt or hit in the hole or hit-and-run or hit a home run. He was a really professional hitter."
Damon provides some of those same skills that Polanco provides. He also provides a left-handed bat in between Jackson and Ordonez, potentially allowing him to take advantage of the infield defense if Jackson's on the move.
"To me, this takes a little more strain off breaking in a young player," Leyland said Monday.
Plus, for all his leadoff experience, Damon had success last year batting second with the Yankees.
His numbers, while primarily batting second in the Yankees lineup, included a .282 average, 107 runs, 36 doubles, 24 home runs and 82 RBIs. His .854 OPS was his highest since 2004, when he won his first World Series crown with the Red Sox. He batted .299 with runners in scoring position, though he also hit .248 with only a runner on first.
"Something like this, I think it really perks up a Magglio," Leyland said. "I think it really perks up a Cabrera, really perks up a Guillen."
There's also the advantage of batting an established Major League hitter after a young prospect who has yet to have his first Major League plate appearance. Damon in the second spot precedes Ordonez, Cabrera and Guillen, taking some pressure off Jackson to do too much.
Jackson seems to be taking his responsibility in stride, though it's easier to do with games still a week away.
"I think it's a different mindset than I've had to experience in the past," said Jackson, who primarily hit second and third at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last year. "Your main goal is to get on base. If you're not doing that, you're probably not hitting No. 1. That's going to be something that I think mentally I'm going to have to focus on -- getting on base, stealing a base and getting in scoring position."
Jackson said he's already working with hitting coach Lloyd McClendon and recognizing some quirks about his swing that he didn't know.
Damon said he hopes to be able to help out some of the Tigers' young players, but he made a point to mention Jackson by name. They only knew each other from Spring Training, and Jackson said he picked up some tips here and there, but he stood out.
"I get to follow him around, just like I did the past couple years. I never had to look at what to do. [Yankees third base coach] Rob Thomson always told me, 'Just follow Austin.' So I'm going to try to do that here, too."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.