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Jackson unsure how he'll be greeted in Motown return

Center fielder set for first trip back to Detroit since July 31 trade to the Mariners

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Jackson unsure how he'll be greeted in Motown return play video for Jackson unsure how he'll be greeted in Motown return

SEATTLE -- The scene was as odd as it was endearing.

On July 31, Tigers manager Brad Ausmus replaced center fielder Austin Jackson in the seventh inning while White Sox second baseman Gordon Beckham was in the middle of his at-bat.

As Jackson jogged off the field, he bumped gloves with substitute Rajai Davis, while many Tigers fans rose to their feet and cheered. Jackson stepped into the dugout and one by one, hugged his teammates.

By then, the news had circulated through Comerica Park and into the Tigers' dugout. Jackson was on his way to the Mariners as part of a three-team non-waiver Trade Deadline deal that brought star left-hander David Price to Detroit.

Sitting inside Seattle's media room Tuesday, the 27-year-old Jackson took the understated route when asked his feelings about returning to the Motor City as a visiting player for the Mariners' three-game weekend series against the Tigers.

Jackson wasn't willing to provide his former teammates with bulletin board material. The Denton, Texas, native described his first trip back as "business as usual," but he admitted it would include mixed emotions.

This series will also include playoff implications. The Mariners and Tigers are each in the mix for American League Wild Card spots.

"Obviously, you want to play well against every team -- especially with the team you were once with," Jackson said. "It's just competitive nature."

Jackson's tenure with the Tigers extended back to December 2009, when the Yankees sent him to Detroit in a three-team trade that brought Curtis Granderson to New York. The next season, Jackson finished second in the AL Rookie of the Year Award voting, hitting .293 with 34 doubles, 27 stolen bases and 103 runs scored. After striking out 181 times in '11 and seeing his average drop to .249, Jackson cut down on his strikeout total in each of the next three seasons.

In 2012, the Tigers made it to the World Series but were swept in four games by the San Francisco Giants. In 4 1/2 seasons with Detroit, Jackson was part of three teams ('11, '12, '13) that finished first in the AL Central, but he's not sure how Tigers fans will greet him in his return.

"I guess it depends on how we do against them," Jackson said.

Since joining Seattle and reteaming with manager Lloyd McClendon -- his hitting coach with Detroit -- Jackson has batted leadoff in each of his 12 starts and gone 12-for-48 (.250 batting average) with five RBIs and six runs scored. A bulk of his production came Sunday, when he went 3-for-4 and drove in all four runs in a 4-2 win over the White Sox.

With a career .277 batting average and .341 on-base percentage, Jackson is the right-handed bat the Mariners sought earlier this season when they tried everyone at the leadoff spot while laboring to score runs.

Abraham Almonte, James Jones, Cole Gillespie, Willie Bloomquist, Michael Saunders and Endy Chavez all got their shot at batting first, but none stuck.

"[Jackson is] an experienced leadoff hitter," McClendon said. "He's battle-tested, been in the playoffs. He's a right-handed hitter and gives us better balance at the top of our lineup. And I think he's a Gold Glove center fielder, so he impacts on both sides of the ball."

Does Jackson have a future in Seattle? He is under contract but is arbitration-eligible next season before being eligible for free agency in 2016. He's also represented by mega-agent Scott Boras.

"I've enjoyed my short time here, but I think if you just look at it as a whole, it's a really good ballclub, great city," Jackson said. "I'm the type of guy where, once I get somewhere, I'm loyal to where I'm at. If that's my calling, I guess that's where it will take me."

Left fielder Dustin Ackley was perhaps affected most when Jackson arrived, moving from batting first to the No. 2 spot in the order. But Ackley believes the acquisition has improved the offense and is helping him see better pitches.

"He can hit doubles, he can hit triples, he can hit home runs," Ackley said of Jackson. "I think it just adds to what we needed at the top of the lineup and what we were kind of missing."

For Jackson, the grace period that comes with adjusting to a new club is over.

"He's been with us [for a while] now and has settled into the city, [and in with] his teammates," McClendon said. "I think he's ready to rock 'n' roll a little bit."

Adam Lewis is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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