CINCINNATI -- Gerald Laird's two-hit game Friday night brought his season hit total to 17 in 59 at-bats. He managed 22 hits over 95 at-bats for all of last season, and 56 over 270 at-bats the last time he was a Tiger in 2010.

When he hit early, it looked like a season-opening hot streak. At this point, though, Tigers officials are comfortable saying that Laird is a better hitter than he used to be.

Is he a .300 hitter? Probably not, though his average stood at .315 entering Saturday's start against the Reds. But he appears to be a better hitter -- or at least a smarter one who knows his limitations.

"He's laying off high fastballs out of the strike zone," manager Jim Leyland said. "He's disciplined himself. He looks good.

"He's aware. He's not trying to hit home runs. He's trying to put a good swing on the ball."

Considering Laird is going to be the regular starter behind the plate for at least the next week while Alex Avila tries to work his way back from a hamstring strain, that's a good thing.

Jackson activated from DL, back in lineup

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.

Leyland worried about bullpen stamina

CINCINNATI -- The Tigers bullpen entered Saturday with the highest loss total in the American League, the second-highest ERA and the second-highest OPS allowed. And yet, it could always be worse.

That's what manager Jim Leyland is worried about. And that's why the way he's had to use his relievers over the past several days disturbs him.

"This is a long season," Leyland said, "and we will have a bunch of guys on the disabled list [if we're not careful]. And we don't have guys to replace them."

Only the Kansas City Royals and Baltimore Orioles have had more pitches thrown by relievers this season among AL clubs, despite an innings total that ranks among the middle of the pack. He has two relievers among the AL's top 20 in appearances so far in Phil Coke and Joaquin Benoit, both of whom have Leyland worried.

He didn't want to use Coke on Friday night but had to, and Coke ended up throwing parts of three different innings.

"Coke pitches every day, it seems," Leyland said. "We have to watch him."

He doesn't want to use Benoit on Saturday after he threw 42 pitches over back-to-back appearances Wednesday and Thursday, but he might have to. Benoit has entered in the seventh inning in three of his past seven appearances, earlier than the eighth-inning role Leyland prefers for him, and the need to do it is Leyland's biggest concern.

"I can assure you, we'd better be careful with Benoit, and [Jose] Valverde a little bit, or we'll be in big trouble," Leyland said. "So [other] guys have to step up."

A key figure in that could be Octavio Dotel, who has been sidelined for the better part of a week with elbow inflammation. Leyland wasn't sure on Saturday afternoon about Dotel's availability.

Peralta goes on paternity leave

CINCINNATI -- Tigers shortstop Jhonny Peralta was placed on Major League Baseball's paternity leave list Saturday so that he could be with his wife, who's due to give birth to twins.

Peralta didn't have far to go, since he and his wife make their home in Cleveland for much of the year. So Peralta won't have far to travel to rejoin the team, but there's no timetable on that.

With Peralta out, the Tigers were down to Ramon Santiago and Danny Worth in the middle infield, with Matt Young a potential substitute at second base. Santiago started at shortstop Saturday, with Worth at second.

The paternity leave list allows a player to be replaced on the roster for up to three days. The Tigers' problem was that they only have two other middle infielders on their 40-man roster not currently with the big club. Ryan Raburn is one, and he's out with a hamstring injury. Thus, Detroit called up second-base prospect Hernan Perez from Class A Lakeland.