The Detroit Tigers went 11 innings without scoring a run on Tuesday night, spoiling a wonderful pitching performance by a surprising Rick Porcello, who threw eight shutout innings himself. While such an offensive malfunction can never be pinned on a single batter, 1-0 losses sure do make you miss a guy like Austin Jackson at the top of your lineup.
Jackson has been absent for two and a half weeks—since May 11th—ailed by a strained left hamstring. Before last night’s game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, manager Jim Leyland spoke cautiously about the center fielder’s return, saying he may go to Triple-A for a rehab stint at some point during the Tigers’ five-game road trip that begins Friday.
Andy Dirks and Omar Infante have been filling in adequately in the leadoff spot, hitting .303. The call-up of Avisail Garcia has also helped distract fans from Jackson’s absence. But two of those players would be playing regardless of Jackson’s health status, and one barely plays as it is. No, the man actually trying to fill Jackson’s shoes—the one getting an uptick in playing time to fill his position—has been the maligned Don Kelly.
Kelly has hit just .188 in 12 games as Detroit’s center fielder. That’s a less-than-exciting number to begin with, but when you consider the normal plug for that spot is Jackson, a player who has hit .294 in regular playing time since the beginning of last year, it looks even worse.
A healthy Jackson over Kelly could easily have been the difference in a game like last night’s, when a single key hit could have seen things wrapped up before extra innings.
The Tigers seem to have been lucky keeping players off the disabled list this year—besides Jackson, the club is only missing Octavio Dotel—they are feeling the effects of not having Jackson. Here’s hoping for a recovery swifter than our center fielder rounding second!