It’s one thing for manager Lloyd McClendon to say that Jackson is the key to the Mariners’ offense — something he has often said and reiterated Sunday. But when the team’s closer goes out of his way to make that point, without even being asked, then it’s more than a platitude.

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PEORIA, Ariz. — It was an unprompted comment from an unlikely source. Conversations with Fernando Rodney can be a little unpredictable, much like a ninth-inning save situation.

But in the midst of talking about the addition of Nelson Cruz and the Mariners’ expectations for success in 2015, the enigmatic closer looked across the clubhouse to where Austin Jackson was standing, having just finished a workout.

“The key for me is the leadoff guy,” he said. “If this guy can get on base, we can go a (long) way. That’s most important when you have a team like that because we have a good offense and we need this guy to get on base.”

It’s one thing for manager Lloyd McClendon to say that Jackson is the key to the Mariners’ offense — something he has often said and reiterated Sunday. But when the team’s closer goes out of his way to make that point, without even being asked, then it’s more than a platitude.

When told about Rodney’s analysis, McClendon smiled and replied: “He’s right.”

How right?

“I think he’s going to be the key to our offense at the top of the order,” McClendon said. “We need him to jump-start things.”

Jackson understands and relishes the opportunity.

“I’ve been in this situation before,” he said. “It’s a tough situation, but it’s the spot where I feel the most comfortable. It’s where I’ve been most of my career and I’ve set my game up around that spot.”

McClendon said early in the offseason that Jackson would be his opening-day leadoff hitter, and the manager hasn’t wavered.

“I told him I don’t need a career year out of Austin,” McClendon said. “I just need him to be the good player that he is. If Austin Jackson hits .270 to .275 with an on-base percentage of .340, then we’ll be OK. I don’t need him to be that guy that hits 25 homers in the leadoff spot. I just need him to get on base.”

Jackson has done it before. In 670 games with Detroit, he hit .277 with a .342 on-base percentage. For his career, when he has been at the leadoff position, he has hit .276 with a .337 OBP.

Mariners’ fans didn’t see much of that Jackson last season after he was acquired in a three-team trade on July 31.

Jackson started the final 54 games after joining the Mariners — all in the leadoff spot. He hit an anemic .229 with a .267 OBP and a .260 slugging percentage. He wasn’t the player the Mariners thought they were acquiring. His bat looked slow and late in obvious fastball counts.

McClendon believes the struggles were combination of fatigue and some bad hitting habits acquired when the Tigers dropped him to sixth and seventh in the batting order to start last season.

“He played 157 games last season and that’s too many for a center fielder with his frame,” McClendon said. “It just wears you down. We’ll do our best to knock that number down.”

Jackson showed up with noticeable muscle added to his frame, particularly in his upper body — something the Mariners asked him to do this offseason.

“He looks extremely fit and you can tell his upper body is a lot stronger,” McClendon said. “It’s our job to maintain that, and make sure he doesn’t wear down.”

Besides his managerial duties, McClendon has joined hitting coach Howard Johnson in working with Jackson to clean up some of those swing issues acquired last season. McClendon was Jackson’s hitting coach for four seasons in Detroit. He helped build the swing and approach.

“I worked with him before,” McClendon said. “I know him and I know his swing better than anybody. I think we’ve got him back to where we want him. The sessions in the cage have been great. The BP sessions have been good. And then we’ll see what happens in games.”

Jackson feels himself getting back to normal.

“I’m making sure I’m repeating my swing,” he said. “I’m trying to get consistent with the load to start. I’m not really worried where the ball is going or how it’s coming off the bat, I’m just trying to get consistent with the bat path so it’s the same every time.”

But it isn’t just the swing; it’s the approach to each at-bat, something Jackson felt he lost while batting sixth and seventh in Detroit.

“I’ve never hit that far down in the lineup before,” he said. “I was trying to rediscover who I was in my approach. It can be tough. It was my first time doing it. I did well for a little bit and then I started to struggle. It’s a different approach. You are hitting a lot with runners on as opposed to getting on and getting the offense started. I didn’t really get used to that spot in that lineup.”

Now he’s preparing for a return to the leadoff spot. That approach feels normal. That feels like Austin Jackson.

“Just leading off and getting things started and trying to jump-start the offense, getting a lot of information for the guys hitting behind me,” he said. “It’s definitely a lot easier when you mentally focus on just being the player you are and not trying to be someone you are not capable of.”