One team in the American League remains unbeaten less than a week into the season. Detroit's 5-2 victory over Tampa Bay today leaves the Tigers at a perfect 4-0.
Again today, as it has been all season, the Tigers spark-plug was center fielder Austin Jackson. Much ado was given to the importance of Jackson producing immediately this season and expectation was high.
Four games in, Jackson has more than delivered the goods, and Detroit has reaped the rewards of his hot start. He has hit safely in each of the first four games and is clipping along with a .563 batting average, .625 OBP and .857 SLG.
Even more important, he's only struck out three times over four games and 16 plate appearances—for Jackson that is a considerable improvement. He's averaged one strikeout per every 3.75 for his career; his 5.33 average this season is nearly two less strikeouts per 10 plate appearances.
A welcome relief for a Tigers team desperate to take advantage of the only speedy player in their lineup.
Jackson has looked solid at the plate, working counts and not giving into junk away from the plate, a type of discipline he lacked last season. Working the count full three times against Rays high-expectation rookie Matt Moore and showing uncanny patience and persistence in working Moore to capacity.
His diligence paid off huge in the seventh inning after previously walking in his first two at-bats. Jackson took a beach ball-sized fastball over the heart of the plate into the left field stands for his first home run of the season tying the game at 2-2.
Perhaps one of the most interesting facts among many of the first week's highlights is that not a single Detroit starting pitcher has accounted for the team's undefeated record. Instead, it's been Detroit's bullpen that has garnered one of baseball's most overrated statistics.
While wins are certainly important, they are not always the product of good or bad pitching.
Now almost a veteran, the Tigers' Rick Porcello started his first game of his fourth season with Detroit and looked as sharp on the mound today as he had all spring. Porcello induced seven ground ball outs in seven innings of work while giving up seven hits.
Especially important was that Porcello did not give up a big inning, as both Rays runs were single-digit gains in the third and the seventh innings.
He struck out four, and Porcello's only walk on the day was to Tampa Bay All-Star Evan Longoria. Porcello gave up only one extra-base hit, a ground-rule double in the top of the seventh to Jose Molina. Molina's hit was ruled a double as a result of fan interference.
Phil Coke earned the Tigers' win with a solid outing, giving up one hit and striking out two, making him the fourth reliever to take home a Detroit victory. Tigers closer Jose Valverde bounced back and earned his first save of the season with a perfect ninth inning.
Coke's gritty eighth inning work followed Jackson's big knock, but it was the on-going Miguel Cabrera/Prince Fielder show that pushed the Tigers into the win column.
Cabrera led off the eighth with a double to Comerica Park's deep alley in center field. Fielder followed by ripping a game-winning single up the middle, scoring Cabrera and putting the Tigers ahead for good.
The Tigers scored two more in the eighth frame via a Delmon Young single and a Jhonny Peralta sacrifice fly that scored Fielder from third. Even Tigers backup catcher Gerald Laird got into the action, getting his first hit and RBI of the season scoring Clete Thomas who was pinch-running for Young.
The Tigers will look to continue the season start streak tomorrow as their ace Justin Verlander takes the hill for his second start this season. Verlander threw eight shutout innings on Opening Day, striking out seven and giving up only two hits.
Box score stats provided by mlb.com.
Bleacher Report Featured Columnist J. Cook is a member of B/R's MLB Content Team and contributes regularly to the Detroit Tigers team page. He also covers key sport interest stories for all of Detroit's major sports teams.
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