Jackson doing his best to claim roster spot

Indians outfielder goes 2-for-3, plays solid D against Reds

Jackson doing his best to claim roster spot

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Austin Jackson sprinted around the bases from first, sliding through the plate for a first-inning run for the Indians on Friday night. When he stood up, he had a chunk of dirt caked to the left knee of his white pants.

Over the remainder of camp, Jackson will try to prove to Cleveland's decision-makers that the knee is just fine, following the season-ending knee surgery he underwent in June last year. If Jackson is deemed back at full strength, he could work his way into the Opening Day outfield picture, especially if Michael Brantley's own comeback extends into April.

"The first part was just getting him healthy, and just getting him back into games," Indians general manager Mike Chernoff said Friday. "This second half of Spring Training is the time to start making some of those assessments, and really determine if he's got a spot on the team."

Key injuries will affect roster decisions

During Friday's 7-3 loss to the Reds, Jackson went 2-for-3 with one RBI, giving him a .333 (6-for-18) average on the spring.

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In the top of the first, the center fielder played a carom off the wall perfectly -- on an RBI double from Cincinnati's Scott Schebler -- and then teamed with second baseman Ronny Rodriguez on an 8-4-2 relay that cut down Eugenio Suarez at the plate. In the home half, Jackson reached with a single and scored on Yan Gomes' double down the left-field line. The otufielder added a run-scoring single in the fourth.

Gomes' RBI double

Those are the types of contributions Cleveland is hoping to continue to see as it considers its outfield options.

Right now, Brantley (right biceps surgery in August) is still working through a conservative program that calls for the left fielder to play five innings in a Minor League game Saturday morning. The Indians have not announced when Brantley might make his Cactus League debut, and it is unclear when consecutive games will be introduced into his schedule.

Last season, when Brantley was limited to 11 games due to right shoulder and biceps issues, the Indians utilized the right-handed-hitting Rajai Davis in both left (40 starts) and center field (66 starts). That helped balance out an outfield that had lefty hitters Tyler Naquin and Lonnie Chisenhall in center and right, respectively. The Indians envisioned a similar role for Jackson when they inked him to a Minor League deal on Jan. 25.

"We lost Raj, obviously," said Chernoff, referring to the fact that Davis signed with the A's over the winter. "The hope was that [Jackson] could potentially fill that type of role. With Brantley back, we probably wouldn't need the same number of plate appearances."

Brandon Guyer, who is mostly used against lefty pitching, is in the plans for Opening Day. The switch-hitting Abraham Almonte -- capable of playing all three positions -- is also a leading contender for a job at the end of camp.

The clock is ticking on Cleveland's decision, as Jackson's Minor League deal includes an opt-out clause for March 26. Jackson said his only focus right now is making sure he remains on the field.

"I just want to make sure that I'm doing everything I can to stay healthy," Jackson said. "I'll just really focus on that and let everything else kind of take care of itself."

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.