CHICAGO -- Characterize the Tigers as a scuffling offensive team?

No problem, says manager Jim Leyland, who said he agrees 100 percent.

And while the American League Central preseason favorites entered Monday's two-game set against the White Sox with a .500 record, Leyland disagrees with anyone who says the Tigers, as a whole, are struggling.

"I don't think we've been playing bad baseball at all. In fact, I think we've played very good," Leyland said before seeing his team drop to 17-18 with a 7-5 loss to the White Sox. "We haven't hit. We haven't scored runs. That's all I see."

Pitching, defense, baserunning. For the most part, they've been there this season for the Tigers, who began the day in second place and only one game behind the Indians.

But where's the much-hyped offense that was supposed to threaten to score 1,000 runs? Nowhere near on track to reach those lofty expectations, for sure, as the Tigers sit in the middle of the pack in the AL in all offensive categories.

Despite those struggles, Leyland remains confident in his team because of proven veterans like Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, Jhonny Peralta and others. And although Leyland noted his starting outfield trio and catcher Alex Avila are young, he said his players' track records are helping him get through this early drought.

Leyland has tried to jump-start his offense any way he can, such as attempting more hit-and-runs in hopes struggling hitters keep their heads on the ball longer, knowing they have to put the ball in play. But, as Leyland said, if the potent Tigers lineup has to rely on putting guys in motion to score runs for any stretch of time, it likely isn't a good sign.

It's just one of many things Leyland has to try, because the offense won't be cured overnight or with a snap of the fingers.

"When I say it's going to be OK, it's going to be OK. Are we good? Yeah, we're [darn] good," Leyland said. "We will be good, but that doesn't mean it's going to be easy. Don't ever think for one minute that it's going to be, because it's not. The players know that. And if they don't, they should know by now."

Avila gets a night off before long stretch

CHICAGO -- Tigers catcher Alex Avila wasn't in Monday's starting lineup, in part because of White Sox left-hander John Danks' presence on the mound, and also in preparation for the days ahead.

Tigers manager Jim Leyland said Avila, who has dealt with left patella tendinitis this season, will start Detroit's next five or six games, which all come against right-handers. That includes some day games after night games, so Leyland wanted to protect Avila's knee.

"I've got to watch this guy and already he's had something flare up this year, so we're watching it very closely," Leyland said. "He's not hurt, he's not going to be out of the lineup [constantly], but am I going to watch? Obviously, yes I am."

Similar career numbers against Danks for Avila (6-for-14) and backup Gerald Laird (4-for-9) also eased Leyland's decision to start Laird, although Leyland noted Laird would have started anyway because of the upcoming schedule.

Laird went 0-for-2 with a sacrifice fly in the Tigers' 7-5 loss. Avila pinch-hit for Laird in the ninth with two runners on, but grounded out to first to end the game.

Dirks' hamstring issue showing progress

CHICAGO -- Manager Jim Leyland said Monday the Tigers are "almost home free" from the hamstring issue that has recently hindered outfielder Andy Dirks.

"He's getting better. I checked with him today and he said it felt really good," Leyland said. "That's good news because hopefully we won't have to make a defensive move. We've been getting him out late because he couldn't bust out after something and he'd really extend the injury or not get to something."

Dirks didn't start Wednesday's game in Seattle after exiting early the previous day. He also left two of the four weekend games in Oakland early, once for a pinch-runner and the other for a pinch-hitter.

Dirks walked and scored a run in the first inning of Monday's 7-5 loss. He was later hit by a pitch and finished 0-for-2.

Worth noting

• Tigers manager Jim Leyland said right-hander Luis Marte (left hamstring strain) will pitch Tuesday and then get a couple days off before trying to throw two or three innings. Marte previously threw an inning in extended Spring Training on Saturday, his first action since Detroit's Grapefruit League finale.

• Austin Jackson entered Monday having hit safely in 12 of his last 16 games, batting .390 with five doubles and a home run during that stretch.