David Robertson’s expression Sunday afternoon said it all and the camera caught every second of it.
In the span of a few seconds, the White Sox closer’s emotions went from disgust to disbelief to joy as Austin Jackson raced back to take at least a double away from Oswaldo Arcia with no outs in the ninth inning.
Similar to Jose Quintana earlier in the game, Robertson parlayed a big effort from Jackson into a scoreless inning as he closed out a 3-1 White Sox victory over the Minnesota Twins at U.S. Cellular Field. Robertson recorded his 10th save and the White Sox improved to 22-10. While you can point to many reasons why the White Sox already own a five-game lead in the American League Central, the team’s improved defense is certainly one of the biggest keys to its early success and Jackson is at the forefront.
“Austin covers a lot of ground and makes great reads,” Robertson said. “I couldn’t believe he got to that ball today.
“I was excited. It was a great catch. I didn’t think he was going to catch it. I wasn’t even sure if it was going to stay in the park.”
Jackson’s grab is only the latest installment in a season full of defensive highlights for the White Sox, particularly in the outfield. After they finished 26th of 30 in Defensive Runs Saved last season with minus-22, White Sox outfielders collectively entered Sunday atop the majors with 12.
Though much of the credit has been assigned to right fielder Adam Eaton, and rightfully so, you can’t overlook the contributions of Jackson, who signed a one-year deal with the club on March 6.
Defensive metrics aren’t as much of a fan of Jackson as they are Eaton. Eaton leads all players with 13 DRS while Jackson has produced minus-3, meaning three fewer runs than the average player at his position.
But what goes unaccounted for on a stat sheet is how Jackson has taken over as the captain of the outfield. Eaton said Jackson’s verbal skills and knowledge of hitters around the league has routinely had him in the correct spot, which allows him to just go out and play.
Jackson agreed that the back and forth between himself and Eaton has been a critical component.
“We’ve been doing a really good job of communicating out there,” Jackson said. “That’s the key to us being able to getting to a lot balls in the gap, cutting off balls, keeping guys at first base — just being able to talk to each other and make sure we’re on the same page and in the proper position when we’re out there.”
Back when Jackson signed, catcher Alex Avila said he’d never seen his former Detroit Tigers teammate dive to catch a ball because he sees it so well off the bat. Jackson displayed his technique in the first inning on Miguel Sano’s liner to center field as he raced over to catch it to the surprise of base runner Eddie Rosario, who had already rounded third base. Jackson easily fired the ball in for a double play.
“His defense is fantastic,” manager Robin Ventura said. “The play in the first inning and the play there in the last inning, it just solidifies everything in the outfield. He can cover a lot of ground, Adam can cover a lot of ground. It's important for us to play defense, but just the dynamic of all three of those guys out there, it's been great for us.
“He has great reads, great routes. I didn't think he was really going to get to the last one. Just a great route to get there and get your glove out.”
Robertson wasn’t the only one to celebrate the catch in center. According to MLB.com’s Statcast, Jackson raced 94 feet at 19.4 mph to rob Arcia of extra bases. His route efficiency was determined to be 96.0 percent.
Perhaps surprised himself, Jackson pounded his glove and later tipped his cap.
“It’s fun — I look at those guys and I see how pumped up they are and vice versa,” Jackson said. “We kind of feed off each other’s energy and like I said, that’s been a big key of what we’ve been able to be so good out there.”