February 24th, 2012

Day 5: Inge finally joins the fray

The empty spot at Brandon Inge’s locker was filled on Friday. Now we’ll see what role he can fill on this team.

The thing about chronicling who reports early and who simply reports on time is that it’s all usually a distant memory by the time spring training games start. Camps work in stages — first who comes in early, then early impressions on pitchers, then full-squad workouts, then who impresses in spring training games, then the Opening Day roster talk. One stage might bleed into the next, but it usually doesn’t bleed far beyond that.

As long as I’ve known, Inge has been a guy who reports on time, but not especially early. It just doesn’t happen, and this situation probably wasn’t going to change that. Still, his line of reasoning for not doing it this year was telling.

“I didn’t want to take anything away from Prince Fielder, welcoming him,” Inge said. “Obviously I would welcome him in but … this [scene] right here, I didn’t want it to be anything against him. I knew he was coming in. I was just kind of laying low so I could talk to you guys on my own, get it out separately, not be a distraction to everyone in there, move on.”

In case you didn’t see the video (it’s on the Tigers site), you could judge what Inge meant by the crowd surrounding him in the photo.

As somebody on twitter pointed out to me, there’s almost a timeline of reporters’ tools in that picture — notepad, recorders, phone as recorder, flipcam, phone as flipcam, handheld recorder. All we needed was a reel-to-reel recorder and a boom mic and we could’ve sent this to the Newseum.

Inge has had some drama here over the years, from being displaced at catcher by Ivan Rodriguez in 2004, to winning the third-base job soon after, to losing his third base job four years ago to Miguel Cabrera, to getting it back, to getting re-signed at the end of the 2010 season, to this. He also has been known for being very good with the media. Friday was a side of Inge that didn’t want a scene. His interview took place outside the clubhouse, and it lasted just over six minutes before he was summoned to an infielders meeting.

His reasoning for the request to compete for the second-base job was up-front and pointed: Gotta try to win a job somewhere.

“I’m not going to play third,” he said. “Miggy’s there for right now. I’m not going to beat him out. So the only potential spot for me to try to win a position, I thought, was second base. I want playing time. I want to stay in Detroit. I love Detroit. So that was a pretty simple decision for me. That was my only option.”

No line about doing what’s best for the team. Nothing about a next phase to his career. This had a little bit of a self-preservation feel to it.

There also was a dose of realism about his situation.

“I just want to play, any spot I can get as far as trying to play on the field,” he said. “I’m happy for the opportunity, basically, to be able to earn some playing time. Nothing’s given. I had a rough year last year, so I don’t blame anyone for it. It’s pretty good. It gives me an opportunity to kind of step back up and earn from the beginning.”

He also said he doesn’t feel what happened last year takes away from the previous eight or nine years, but you get the idea.

His teammates, for what it’s worth, were pretty supportive. Ramon Santiago was quoted somewhere saying he has no problem with Inge competing for playing time at his spot. Justin Verlander was supportive.

“It’s great to have him back,” Verlander said. “I love Brandon to death. Whether he’s playing second base, playing third base, or helping any way he can, he’s an integral asset to this ballclub.”

The saga of Inge at second base won’t get the same attention as Cabrera’s move to third, but it won’t be ignored, either. He’s in great shape with added muscle, but most second basemen are lighter and more agile than most third basemen, so there’s still a big adjustment to make.

This part, the part about reporting to camp, is probably going to be forgotten pretty quickly. If Inge can’t make the move, or if he can’t hit, it’s not going to be because he didn’t get here early.

Actual workout item of the day: So far this week, Tigers batting practice usually has meant Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder trading long balls. And they had their share of decent shots today once live pitching transitioned to coaches’ BP. But two other hitters seemed to stand out Friday.

Brennan Boesch continued to strike the ball with authority, lofting a ball well into the trees beyond right field on one of the back fields. And Avisail Garcia looked so good that he caught Jim Leyland’s attention, prompting the manager to sit in on another BP session with him and watch him go to work.

“He’s a big, young guy,” Leyland said, “and he’s only going to get stronger.”

Garcia hit 11 homers here last summer for the Class A Lakeland Flying Tigers. It’ll be interesting to see how his power translates to the cozier confines of Double-A Erie and the Eastern League, assuming that’s where he ends up.

Actual workout item of the day, part 2: Ok, so yes, Cabrera was still the story of the workout. I wrote about Cabrera’s first day at third base on the site, but just as impressive was the workout he put in before the workouts.

Cabrera arrived around 7am ET, and was out on the field at Joker Marchant Stadium doing his separate workout program. That included sprints around the warning track with a resistance band around him, as you can see in the picture.

Non-actual workout item of the day: It wasn’t just the full squad that reported to the Tigers. Friday’s first full-squad workout attracted CBSSports.com’s Danny Knobler, Foxsports.com’s Ken Rosenthal, ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark, USA Today’s Seth Livingstone, Matt Crossman from The Sporting News, and an MLB Network crew that included Matt Yallof. So, yes, these guys are getting some attention.

Quote of the day: “I can’t worry about the numbers, but I think I can pitch better. That’s what I strive to do.” — Justin Verlander, when asked if he can think about improving upon last year.

Another quote of the day: “I’ll take two championships in nine years with Prince.” — Michael Lapanowski of Rochester, Mich., one of the many Tigers fans who made their way south to watch early workouts this week. It’s not really news that this team has a lot of fans who travel, but the number of fans who showed up for early workouts was surprising. Remembers, games don’t start until next weekend.

Inge: “I just want to play, any spot I can get”

Look for some video clips of Brandon Inge’s talk with reporters on the site later. Story is also coming. For now, here are some quotes from the six-minute session:

  • On  the move: “I just want to play, any spot I can get as far as trying to play on the field. I’m happy for the opportunity, basically, to be able to earn some playing time. Nothing’s given. I had a rough year last year, so I don’t blame anyone for it. It’s pretty good. it gives me an opportunity to kind of step back up and earn from the beginning. I don’t think last year takes away from anything I’ve done in the past eight or nine years. Obviously I had a bad year, and that’s fine. I accept it. I take responsibility for it. But I’m excited to be able to start fresh right now.”
  • On the Tigers’ decision: “It’s pretty simple for me, actually, if you think about it. Put yourself in a general manager’s position and not think as a player. I put myself in Mr. Dombrowski’s position and tried to figure out what I would do if I was in his shoes, and I respect that he’s going to go with Miggy. Miggy thinks he can do it at third. He’s going to go with him, and I respect that, because he’s sticking with his guys. Miggy’s done a lot to help the team. He’s a big part of the team, so he’s sticking behind him, showing faith in him that he can play third. And I appreciate that.”
  • Was his decision hard: “My decision, I’m not going to play third. Miggy’s there for right now. I’m not going to beat him out. So the only potential spot for me to try to win a position, I thought, was second base. I want playing time. I want to stay in Detroit. I love Detroit. So that was a pretty simple decision for me. That was my only option.”
  • Tough transition? “It’s not a big deal. Not at all. I played there in high school. I know that was a long time ago, but infield is infield. That’s kind of second nature for me. Learning the outfield cuts and the instinctive things, that’s why Spring Training’s going to be perfect for me, because you can get away with stuff in Spring Training and learn from your mistakes, so when you go into the season it’ll be second nature. It’s not like I’m learning a whole new sport, you know?”
  • Can he play it: “I know I can play it. I’m not thinking. I know I can play it. It’s just a matter of going out and working at it and working hard and getting there.”
  • Why not report to camp sooner: “I didn’t want to take anything away from Prince Fielder, welcoming him. Obviously I would welcome him in but … this right here, I didn’t want it to be anything against him. I knew he was coming in. I was just kind of laying low so I could talk to you guys on my own, get it out separately, not be a distraction to everyone in there, move on.”
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