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Jackson turns slump aside to spark Tigers

Jackson turns slump aside to spark Tigers

Jackson turns slump aside to spark Tigers
DETROIT -- Austin Jackson padded across the Tigers' clubhouse carpet 10 minutes before midnight ET on Tuesday, a couple of batting gloves poking out of his back left pocket and a confident smile spreading across his face.

As Jackson disappeared into a back area, he slapped his right hand against a concrete wall to acknowledge Justin Verlander, drawing a nod in response. Verlander is now guaranteed a Game 5 start, thanks in part to the center fielder's contributions.

Jackson snapped out of a 3-for-25 playoff funk with three hits, a run scored and an RBI in the Tigers' 5-2 victory over the Rangers in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series.

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"Being a leadoff hitter, you try to spark the team a little bit," Jackson said. "When it's not going as well as you want it to, you kind of take it to heart a little bit.

"I'm just trying to do whatever I can do to get on base, get in scoring position and try to let the guys behind me drive me in."

After striking out 181 times during the regular season, Jackson had fanned 14 times in seven playoff games against the Yankees and Rangers coming into Game 3.

That trend, combined with a general lack of production on the balls he did put in play, became troubling enough that manager Jim Leyland floated the idea of dislodging him from the leadoff spot.

But Jackson arrived to Comerica Park early on Tuesday for a session with hitting coach Lloyd McClendon, which seemed to pay some dividends.

"I would like to say that I tweaked him a little bit, but I would be lying," Leyland said. "But he did hit early with Mac today. I told Mac, 'Have him hit early tomorrow. Don't think things are OK. Have him hit early tomorrow.'"

Jackson hit .249 with a .317 on-base percentage in 153 games this season, dipping from his rookie year in 2010, but Leyland spoke before the game about how the 24-year-old can ignite the Tigers' lineup when he is right. Tuesday's results offered some proof of that.

"He makes us go," Leyland said. "He makes everybody in the dugout feel good. I was asked a question before the game about dropping him in the lineup, which was a very legitimate question.

"You know what, this is us. We are what we are. We've been doing this for the whole year, and we're going to either win this thing or go down with what we got. That's the way we're going to do it."

Tigers utility man Don Kelly stashes his belongings in a locker to Jackson's immediate left and said that despite the playoff struggles, Jackson has been able to keep his focus in the right places.

"Austin is level-headed about it," Kelly said. "He's going to go out there and give you 100 percent every day and give you good at-bats. With his speed, if he can get on base, it's huge for us.

"He's been that way all last year and this year, playing with him. You go through ups and downs, and he stays pretty consistent. He goes out there and plays tremendous defense and gives you good at-bats."

Jackson said that he and McClendon were trying to modify his leg kick, which has been a point of continuous focus in Jackson's two years with the Tigers.

"We were just trying to get that timing down," Jackson said. "That's the main thing, I think, just trying to get me going, trying to get the timing down.

"I've just got to keep battling with it, keep going out there. It's tough at this point in the season to work on things, but you've just got to do your best."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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