Jackson is AL Rookie of Month for April
Detroit outfielder led all first-year players in runs, hits, steals
MINNEAPOLIS -- The way Austin Jackson has sprayed hits all over the field and covered ground in center has made it easy to forget he's a rookie. Once the American League Rookie of the Month ballot came out, his performance was impossible to overlook.
On a May afternoon on which Jackson stood atop the Major Leagues in hitting, the Tigers leadoff man won AL Rookie of the Month honors for April. He became the first Tigers position player ever to win the monthly award, and joined Rick Porcello and Justin Verlander as the third Tiger in the last five years to win one.
If he can keep hitting and fielding anywhere near this level, he could be in line for a repeat at some point this season. He'll have his ups and downs, as Detroit manager Jim Leyland has tried to remind reporters and anyone who will listen, but the 23-year-old has already shown that there is more to his game than even many Tigers officials expected when they acquired him in the Curtis Granderson trade.
"If I didn't tell you he's doing better than I thought he would, I'd be lying," Leyland said. "Yes, he's done better than I thought he would. I'm just going to keep putting him out there and let him play, not get too excited. There'll be enough of that."
There'll be good reason for it. No Major League hitter at any experience level had as many April base hits as Jackson, who went 36-for-99 for a .364 batting average. Add in 10 walks, and his .422 on-base percentage ranked seventh in the American League.
Jackson has reached base safely in all but one game he has played this season, and he has a base hit in all but three. The latter, hitting safely in 23 of his first 26 career games, is something just two other Tigers have done since 1920 and hadn't been accomplished since Coot Veal in 1958.
"I try not to think about it too much," Jackson said Tuesday of his early success. "I mean, it's definitely a great accomplishment for me, but I'm not satisfied. It's a long season. I would like for us to be right in the mix of things at the end of this year."
Twelve of his April games were multi-hit efforts, tying him for the Major League lead with established greats Derek Jeter and Ichiro Suzuki. His five-hit game April 30 against the Angels was the first from a Tigers rookie since Granderson in 2005.
With a three-hit game Monday against the Twins, Jackson moved past Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano to take over the Major League batting lead with a .377 average.
"I don't think anybody in their right mind expected Austin Jackson to be hitting .370 on May 1," Leyland said. "But he stays with it, he doesn't try to do too much, and I think that's the key. If he tried to hit home runs, I don't think he'd do as well."
Defensively, he has shown a veteran eye for fly balls, combining sure reads with the speed of a former multi-sport athlete to handle the vast outfield of cavernous Comerica Park.
Asked after a three-hit game in Seattle on April 18 if he was surprised how well his start has gone, specifically at the plate, Jackson was tempered.
"I wouldn't say I'm surprised or anything," Jackson said. "I'm confident in myself and the things that we worked on. It's just once you get out there, it's applying it in the game. "
The one downside to his first month in the Majors was his strikeout total, which also led the big leagues. He fanned at least once in each of his first 19 Major League games, something no player had done since at least 1952. Once that streak ended last Monday, however, he went without a strikeout in his final four April games and has struck out just twice over his past seven contests.
"I think that's just knowing yourself as a player," Jackson said Tuesday, "knowing that when I get tense and I'm trying to do too much, I'm not playing my game. So I try to just keep things simple, just try to make solid contact, somehow get on base, try to get in scoring position. I just had to step my level of concentration up a little bit, really try to get a pitch to hit and just be patient."
Leyland has said repeatedly that he isn't worried about the strikeouts, in part because he doesn't want Jackson to get defensive and change his swing to try to cut down on them. The way Jackson is hitting, he doesn't want to change much of anything about him.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.