CINCINNATI -- Austin Jackson sat in the visiting clubhouse at Great American Ball Park with a look of somebody who was happy at long last to get back to playing. He never expected to be out this long in the first place.
Three and a half weeks after Jackson suffered what was thought to be a minor abdominal strain that would cost him a few days, the Tigers activated him from the 15-day disabled list Saturday morning and put him back in the lineup at leadoff. He went hitless in four at-bats in his return.
It doesn't get the Tigers anywhere near full strength -- they lost shortstop Jhonny Peralta for a day or two when he went on paternity leave Saturday -- but it gets them one of their key cogs back. If he can pick up where he left off at the plate on an outstanding early stretch, it could be huge to the Tigers' fortunes.
Jackson went 1-for-8 during a two-game rehab stint at Triple-A Toledo but got his timing back watching pitches. He had a chance to test out his body, swinging at game speed and covering ground in center field.
"I felt good enough about it to return. I didn't have any pain," Jackson said. "It was good to just get out there and get some ABs, see some pitches and get back into the swing of things."
The Tigers went 18-17 in games Jackson started from Opening Day to mid-May, averaging 4.4 runs per game during that stretch. Despite Quintin Berry's surprising performance in his place, Detroit went 8-13 without Jackson with a slight drop in scoring to 4.2 runs despite a higher average and OPS.
The question for more than a week with Berry, batting .288 with 15 runs in 16 games, has been his role once Jackson returns. For now, it appears to be as a reserve.
The Tigers don't have the designated hitter available until they return home next weekend, so Delmon Young has moved to left field opposite Brennan Boesch in right. By the time the Tigers come back home, Leyland is hoping to have regular left fielder Andy Dirks back.
"It is what it is. He's an extra player on the bench," Leyland said of Berry. "Maybe he'll pinch-hit to lead off an inning, maybe pinch-run. There's a role there, but I'm not going to take Boesch out. Hopefully we've got him going. I'm not going to take Delmon out, and Jackson's our center fielder."
The Tigers activated Austin Jackson on Saturday morning before announcing a move to create room, a sign of the uncertainty over their bullpen with Octavio Dotel battling elbow inflammation. In the end, they optioned right-handed reliever Jose Ortega to Toledo and opted to keep a full bench for pinch-hitting and defensive switches in National League style games.