DETROIT -- What was originally only supposed to be a day off for Austin Jackson is going to last at least the next couple of weeks. The Tigers placed their leadoff man and defensive centerpiece on the 15-day disabled list Monday with a strained left hamstring.
The move is retroactive to Sunday. To fill Jackson's spot, the Tigers have recalled outfielder Avisail Garcia from Triple-A Toledo.
The move comes after Jackson sat out Sunday's game against Cleveland. It was his second game off in just over a week, but unlike last time, he did not enter the game late as a defensive replacement, not even with a one-run lead in the ninth inning. Nor did he pinch-hit once the Tigers fell behind in the 10th.
That was the first sign of a serious issue. Realistically, the injury had been bothering him for a couple weeks when he ran, especially when he tried to pick up speed.
"It started off as something being just sore, maybe a little tight, and we did the right treatment for something like that," Jackson said Monday afternoon. "And eventually, it just started to get worse."
An MRI exam and other tests on Sunday revealed what doctors termed a Grade 1 strain, the least severe on a 1-to-3 scale. However, it's pesky, and neither the team nor Jackson want to make it worse.
"The biggest thing is it's early in the season," head athletic trainer Kevin Rand said. "This is a player who makes his living with his speed, and we want to make sure that we get him right. … Better to lose two weeks than he tries to push through something. You'd hate to see him try to push through something and you end up losing him 4-6 weeks."
Jackson's loss creates a major void atop Detroit's order. He was among the league's leading hitters through the season's first 2 1/2 weeks, batting .393 (24-for-61) before falling into an 0-for-26 slump at the end of the Tigers' West Coast trip last month. He's batting .231 (9-for-39) with eight runs scored, three doubles and 12 strikeouts so far in May.
Don Kelly started in center field for the two games Jackson was on the bench, and he was back in center on Monday. With Jackson out for a longer stretch, the Tigers appear to have options.
Andy Dirks, who hit leadoff when Jackson didn't play, has experience in center and could take over the role for some games against right-handed pitchers. Garcia, who was not in the starting lineup on Monday, can play center, too, having started 44 games there last summer at Double-A Erie and two games over the weekend for Triple-A Toledo.
Though Garcia has played more in the corner outfield spots the last couple years, he could get the bulk of the starts in center while Jackson is out.
"He's going to play," manager Jim Leyland said of Garcia. "I'll put him in center against a right-hander, play him in center against left-handers, and I don't know how else it'll work out. It could be Dirks. It could be Kelly. But I'm not going to move Torii [Hunter] over."
Hunter, of course, was a Gold Glove Award-winning center fielder for a decade with the Twins and Angels. However, the 37-year-old has played only one game in center since 2011.
Either way, Garcia has the potential to bring an offensive infusion to Detroit. After opening the season on the disabled list with a severely bruised right heel that cost him over a month, Garcia was optioned to Triple-A at the end of April and immediately hit up a storm for the Mud Hens. He went 16-for-37 (.432) over eight games, with a double, a home run and four RBIs.
Garcia, who turns 22 next month, rejoins the Tigers in the regular season for the first time since last September, when he played an underrated role in Detroit's late-season charge to the American League Central title. He went 15-for-47 (.319) down the stretch in the regular season, with three RBIs, then went 6-for-23 with a double and four RBIs in the Tigers' postseason run to the World Series.
Garcia came to Spring Training with a chance to compete for a spot on Detroit's Opening Day roster, but he was going to have to win a regular role in the outfield to do so, according to team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski. Those chances grew longer well before he bruised his heel lunging for first base on an infield grounder in a Spring Training game in mid-March.