3/30/2014 3:35 P.M. ET
Jackson slides down as Tigers set lineup
By Jason Beck / MLB.com
DETROIT -- Austin Jackson is officially no longer a leadoff hitter. And for the first time in five years, the Tigers will have a different batter atop their batting order.
The flip side is that Jackson is now officially a critical run producer where he's hitting if this Tigers lineup is going to put up runs.
After five weeks of Grapefruit League play and just about that much speculation, manager Brad Ausmus finally announced his Opening Day lineup Sunday morning at Comerica Park. Jackson will bat fifth, just behind the duo of Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez.
Ian Kinsler will bat leadoff, reprising the role he held for most of his Texas tenure. Torii Hunter will keep his second spot as the bridge between the top of the order and Cabrera. After Jackson, Alex Avila will bat sixth, followed by rookie third baseman Nick Castellanos, new shortstop Alex Gonzalez and speedy left fielder Rajai Davis.
"There are portions of this lineup, I think, are relatively easy," Ausmus said, "and there are spots where you probably have a little more wiggle room. Ultimately after talking with the coaches and mulling it over, this is what I came up with."
The middle of the order, by contrast, has some "grey area," as Ausmus put it. That's where the offseason departures and injuries are more noticeable with Prince Fielder and Jhonny Peralta playing in other cities, and Andy Dirks stuck in Lakeland, Fla., rehabbing from back surgery.
If there was a spot where Ausmus could use a hot bat, that was it. None were hotter in Spring Training than Jackson, who hit .429 (24-for-56) in Grapefruit League play with nine extra-base hits, two home runs and 14 RBIs.
"He's hit there really for the majority of Spring Training, and he's looked exceptional," Ausmus said. "Does that necessarily mean it's going to carry over? No, but right now I feel he's the best option in that spot."
Jackson has had a while to prepare for it. Ausmus talked with him about the possibility of hitting in the middle of the lineup around the start of Spring Training, and Ausmus said two weeks ago that Jackson was unlikely to hit leadoff when the season started.
It didn't change his approach at the plate, Jackson said, but it changed other factors surrounding him.
"I think it's a little bit of a change of mindset, the opportunities that you'll be able to hit with runners on a little bit more, maybe get a chance to be a little bit more aggressive," Jackson said, "not to mention being able to be a little more aggressive on the basepaths."
The matchup also potentially favors Jackson, a right-handed hitter who fares better against right-handed pitchers (.291 career, .296 last year) than lefties (.246, .213). Royals Opening Day starter James Shields, in turn, is a right-hander who gives up a higher batting average to righties (.264 career, .272 last year) than lefties (.249, .233).
Jackson is 8-for-25 with three walks lifetime off Shields, including 8-for-21 the last two seasons.
The assumption for most of spring was that the Tigers shortstop would bat ninth. Ausmus' reasoning for moving Davis down there sounded much the same as his predecessor, Jim Leyland, for hitting Omar Infante there in past seasons. Ausmus, like Leyland, likes the idea of a second leadoff hitter.
"You're hoping, in theory, that it puts him on base in front of guys like Kinsler and Hunter and Miggy," Ausmus said. "It doesn't always work out that way, but that's kind of the theory going in. He certainly has the ability to score on just about any double from first base. And he puts a little bit of fear into the pitcher and catcher as far as his base-stealing ability."
Collins, Reed land on Tigers' 25-man roster
DETROIT -- Tyler Collins and Evan Reed were among the 25 players who made the trip north with the Tigers out of Spring Training Friday. They weren't sure, at that point, whether they were part of the 25-man Opening Day roster. The chance of the Tigers making a trade or a waiver claim were too high to guarantee anything.
They finally got the news Saturday, with Collins signing his first Major League contract. The left-handed-hitting left fielder, who hasn't played a game above Double-A level yet, could finally stop, secretly hoping the Tigers found nothing on the waiver wire.
"I mean, you want to make the team. Everybody wants to make the team," Collins said. "The fact that I have, I don't know what to say. It hasn't hit me yet. Tomorrow it'll hit me, I think, but right now I'm just like, 'Oh man.'"
Collins said his mom is flying in from Fort Worth, Texas, to be in attendance for his potential Major League debut. He also has an aunt and uncle in Grand Rapids, Mich., who are driving over. They didn't get to see him in the Minor League because he bypassed Class A West Michigan on his way up the Tigers system.
Reed wasn't quite as nervous, in part because he already had a couple stints in Detroit last year. He earned a bullpen spot with a solid Spring Training that included a walk and 12 strikeouts over 11 1/3 innings with two earned runs allowed.
"I could do the math. Once we got down to 25 people, I had a strong sense that I had made the team," Reed said. "But until you're really told, I just kept playing it out in my head. But I felt confident that I would. I just felt like I was a big league pitcher.
"It wasn't like I was walking about nervous, but it was a good exhale. It felt great. I knew I earned it, but in the whole scheme of things, this is just beginning. I mean, we have 162 games. I want to go and try to earn a role, starting tomorrow."
Newly acquired Gonzalez eager for Opening Day start
DETROIT -- Alex Gonzalez went from looking to make a Major League club out of camp to looking at making his sixth consecutive Opening Day start since missing the 2008 season with knee surgery. That streak includes last year, even though it barely felt like it for Gonzalez.
"Last year, I was at first base," Gonzalez said.
Yes, Gonzalez was the Opening Day first baseman last year for the Brewers, who were low on options after losing Mat Gamel to knee surgery.
"It was kind of boring for me," Gonzalez said. "When you play shortstop, third base, second base, you make a lot of movement."
Not only starting Opening Day, but doing it back at his longtime position at shortstop, clearly means something for Gonzalez, acquired just a week ago to fill the job. Until then, he was looking at a chance to start Opening Day at third base in Baltimore in place of injured Manny Machado.
Gonzalez also understands the challenges involved for him to do it at age 37, challenges that are more likely to affect him well beyond Opening Day.
"It's a hard position for my age," he said. "You have to stay healthy, do a lot of work to keep moving around very good. I have to cover a lot of ground in the hole, up the middle. For me, staying healthy is going to be the key this year.
"Tomorrow I'm going to be an Opening Day starter at shortstop in Detroit, and hopefully it's a great opportunity to play a lot more games here."
• Joba Chamberlain will open the season with the beard he spent Spring Training growing. A Twitter poll from MLB Network's Intentional Talk program found the beard winning 36 percent of the vote, compared with 28 percent for a moustache, 19 percent for a goatee and 17 percent for a clean-shaven look. That's fine for Chamberlain, who has been growing the beard since he signed with the Tigers in December and has trimmed it just a few times since.
• Sunday was the Tigers' first chance to work out on the newly resodded field at Comerica Park, where the grass was laid down about 10 days ago. Jackson said he wanted to test out the outfield to get an idea of the footing.
"You definitely want to get your feet on it a little bit and see," Jackson said. "When you put cleats on, you want to see how it is. You have to get a good feel for it."
• Anibal Sanchez and Rick Porcello threw opposite each other in a simulated game at Comerica Park during Sunday's workout. Both are on track to start later this week, with Sanchez starting Thursday's series finale against the Royals before Porcello greets the Orioles on Friday.