PEORIA, Ariz. — This all seems familiar as center fielder Austin Jackson looks around the Mariners’ clubhouse.
A true superstar in the middle of the lineup bracketed by a few other All-Star quality players? Check. A genuine No. 1 guy atop a rotation loaded with other proven arms? Check. A roster dotted with veteran players? Check.
Jackson looks at the Mariners and sees the Detroit Tigers.
“I even made that comparison a few times last year,” he said. “It reminds me a lot of when I first got to the Tigers (in 2010). We were young and had a good mix, but we hadn’t quite meshed yet.
“Over the years, we kind of built up that team chemistry. You look at this team this year, and there are a lot of similarities to a few of those Tigers teams.”
Jackson joined the Tigers in 2010 when they were coming off a stretch of 22 years with one postseason appearance. That year, they would finish .500 before starting a run of four straight division crowns.
He saw what turns a club into a perennial postseason participant.
“It takes some leadership,” Jackson said, “guys stepping up and really being vocal leaders — and then being able to go out and lead by example. This team has those guys.”
These Mariners also have Jackson, who spent most of the last five years as the triggerman atop the Detroit lineup before a July 31 deadline trade last year brought him to the Pacific Northwest.
The change didn’t go well.
Jackson struggled over the final two months, compiling a .229/.267/.260 slash (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) in 54 games that paled in comparison to his pre-trade career numbers of .277/.342/.413.
“It was a tough transition,” said manager Lloyd McClendon, who spent four years as Jackson’s hitting coach in Detroit. “Offensively, he fell into some bad habits that we need to clean up.”
The problem required more than a mechanical tune-up, though. Jackson realizes, in retrospect, that he simply didn’t adjust well to the change and, subsequently, allowed problems to mushroom.
“When you come in (from another team) and get thrown into the fire,” he said, “you’re trying to fit in. You’re trying to get to know guys and do your best to contribute.”
When it didn’t click right away, Jackson tried harder — he pressed — and it backfired. An off-season’s reflection brought him to camp this spring with a resolve to relax.
“I think a big thing is just being able to get started here,” he said. “Start with the team and be in a situation where it’s just about getting your work in, really just getting into baseball shape.
“You’re able to just relax because you’re not really worry about the results as much. You can just think about getting yourself prepared for the season.”
So far, so good.
Jackson is 5-for-14 in four games and flashed his speed Thursday against Oakland with a line-drive triple and in beating out a grounder for an infield single.
“My approach is to use the whole field,” he said. “Not try to do too much. Just take what they’re giving me. Don’t try to pull too much. Don’t try to hit for a lot of power.
“Just make sure I’m seeing it and putting a good swing on it.”
McClendon identifies Jackson as “the key” to the Mariners’ attack.
“At the top of the order,” McClendon said, “we need him to jump-start things. I told Austin this, I don’t need a career year out of him. I just need him to be the good player that he is.
“If Austin Jackson hits .270 and has an on-base percentage of .340, then we’ll be OK. I don’t need him to be that guy who hits 25 home runs in the leadoff spot. I just need him to get on base.”
Then it really might seem like Detroit.
CRUZ IN RIGHT
Nelson Cruz logged his first outfield time of the spring Thursday when he started in right field against the Athletics in Mesa. His previous four spring games came as the designated hitter.
“I’m confident that he can play the outfield,” McClendon said, “but he needs to be out there.
“I’m trying to be as smart as I can be with this. Give him some time out there to keep him sharp but, at the same time, keep him healthy. He’ll be out there a few more times for sure.”
Cruz played primarily left field last season in Baltimore when not serving as the DH, but any time he gets in the Mariners’ outfield is likely to be in right.
“I think he’s probably more comfortable in right field,” McClendon said.
Right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma threw 60 pitches in four innings Thursday morning in a simulated game against a collection of minor-league players on one of the Mariners’ practice fields.
“I felt good overall today,” he said, “and had a better feel of my command, being able to locate where I wanted to. I was able to work from my stretch with runners on and that was good to get that feel back.
“I felt like my arm speed and arm action were better than my first outing, so I am satisfied with where I am at being the second game in camp.”
McClendon opted against having Iwakuma pitch against the A’s because the two teams play April 10-12 in Oakland.
The Mariners are taking the same approach Sunday with Felix Hernandez, who will pitch in a simulated game rather than face the Dodgers. The Mariners play April 13-15 in Los Angeles.