CLEVELAND – The workload of Austin Jackson has been relatively small given his injury history over the last 12 months.
Between a medial meniscus tear in his left knee (four months) and a hyperextended left big toe (one month), the 30-year-old veteran has spent his fair share of time on the disabled list.
“We didn’t get a long look,” said manager Terry Francona about Jackson in spring training. “I think our biggest thing was trying to make sure he was healthy.”
Well, Jackson is finally healthy and fully performing in his prime.
With Lonnie Chisenhall (concussion) on the seven-day concussion DL, Jackson has gone 3-for-11 with one double, three sacrifice flies, one home run and five RBIs in a three-game stretch since his activation from a rehab assignment at Triple-A Columbus.
“Austin’s been here for three days and he’s staying in the middle of the field so well,” Francona said.
Staying in the middle of the field is a smart hitting approach, one that Jackson has recently applied to his game in 2017. Entering play, the outfielder was hitting 40.6% of his batted balls to the opposite side in right field, a career-high mark that exceeds his six-year average of 29.0%.
In looking at Jackson’s spray chart in 2017, it is evident he is trying to limit fly balls to the pull side…
The majority of Jackson’s groundballs have been to the left side of the infield, indicating his struggles in rolling over the ball. This may be a reason for why he is hitting a career-low 28.1% of his batted balls to the pull side.
“When hitters [stay in the middle], they generally cover more pitches,” said Francona. “Whether it’s a sacrifice fly to deep right-center or a home run today, but his swings have been pretty consistent just because he’s staying in the middle of the field so well.”
Jackson seems to have figured it out by staying back on pitches and shooting it the other way…
May 28 (2-for-3, single, double, two sacrifice flies, three RBIs)
May 29 (1-for-3, home run, sacrifice fly, two RBIs)
While it is a small sample size of two games, this kind of production is crucial in turning a three-game losing streak into a two-game winning streak, especially from the bottom of the batting order.
Francona’s sense of trust in such a player makes him an ideal fit for a team running out of outfielders.
“When he came back, he was pretty good,” Francona said of Jackson recovering from left knee surgery. “We’ve seen Austin for a long time.”
The defending American League champions may have just cemented another platoon piece in their outfield.
“When a guy has played six years, he’s been pretty consistent,” said Francona. “It’s nice to see a guy though when – I think he only had three rehab games – to come back and swing the bat like he has. It gives you a lift.”
John Alfes has covered the Indians for IBI since August of 2016. Follow him on Twitter @JohnAlfes for breaking news and in-depth coverage all season long.