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The Strike Zone

Tigers drop strikeout-prone Austin Jackson in lineup, put Torii Hunter in leadoff spot

Austin Jackson, Getty ImagesAustin Jackson has struck out in more than half his at-bats this postseason. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Since doubling to lead off the first game of the Division Series against the A's, Tigers centerfielder and leadoff man Austin Jackson has gone 2-for-32, both singles, with 18 strikeouts and a pair of walks in this postseason. It's no surprise, then, that with Detroit trying to avoid a 3-games-to-1 deficit in the American League Championship Series against the Red Sox on Wednesday night, Tigers manager Jim Leyland has dropped Jackson from first to eighth in the batting order.

To some it might be more surprising that Jackson is still in the lineup at all, but he has strong career numbers against Red Sox starter Jake Peavy (.321/.367/.571 in 30 career plate appearances) while the only other player on the Tigers' ALCS roster to have played a full game in centerfield this season, Leyland favorite Don Kelly, is just 1-for-9 career against the Boston righty. So Jackson will remain in center, where he's still an asset in the field, Kelly will remain on the bench and everyone else, other than shortstop and ninth-place hitter Jose Iglesias, will move up a spot.

This has some interesting side effects, such as Torii Hunter leading off for the first time since 1999 and Miguel Cabrera hitting second for the first time since 2004, but those are the results of the primary move of dropping Jackson. Leyland is smartly refusing to upset the rest of his order just to drop Jackson, letting the rest of his hitters bat in their customary procession. In other words, he's not tinkering just for the sake of it.

As I wrote in my preview of Wednesday night's Game 4, Hunter has great numbers in his career against Peavy and went 2-for-4 in Game 3, which suggests his bat might be coming around. Cabrera, with his power sapped by his lower-body injuries, fits well in the two-hole. Even if Prince Fielder isn't hitting right now, he commands enough respect that his lefthanded bat should continue to protect the righty Cabrera in the No. 3 spot, and with Victor Martinez, Jhonny Peralta and Alex Avlia being the team's hottest hitters, moving them up almost feels overdue.

Ultimately, it's a simple, obvious change. There's no guarantee that it will work, but it's certainly worth a try.
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