April 3rd, 2012

Tigers set Opening Day lineup

With Brandon Inge placed on the 15-day DL, Jim Leyland confirmed what he had suggested on Monday: The lineup he used Monday against the Jays is the lineup he’ll use on Opening Day Thursday against Red Sox starter Jon Lester.

That includes switch-hitter Ramon Santiago at second base.

Here’s the lineup from Monday again:

  1. Austin Jackson, CF
  2. Brennan Boesch, RF
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 3B
  4. Prince Fielder, 1B
  5. Delmon Young, LF
  6. Ryan Raburn, DH
  7. Jhonny Peralta, SS
  8. Alex Avila, C
  9. Ramon Santiago, 2B

P: Justin Verlander

As for the lineup after that, Leyland said this morning that Andy Dirks will be the DH on Saturday against the right-handed starter. Raburn could still be in the lineup; Leyland indicated Raburn will play second base on many days against right-handed starters.

Tigers place Inge on 15-day DL (updated)

After all the speculation this spring about Brandon Inge’s future with the Tigers, the longest-tenured Tiger will open the season on the disabled list. The Tigers placed Inge on the 15-day disabled list with a left groin strain.

The move, coupled with the fact that Drew Smyly will start the season at Triple-A Toledo, essentially completes the Tigers’ 25-man Opening Day roster. Infielder Danny Worth and outfielders Andy Dirks and Clete Thomas all make the team, though the Tigers will have to make another roster move to make room for Smyly in time for his scheduled Major League debut April 12. They’ll also have another roster move when Inge is ready to come off the disabled list.

The one formality left is for the Tigers to place reliever Al Alburquerque on the disabled list. He’s recovering from offseason elbow surgery, and though he should be cleared to begin a throwing program in the coming days, he isn’t expected to be ready to pitch until the All-Star break.

As for Inge, the move is retroactive to last Friday, March 30. He’ll be eligible to be activated on April 14 for the second game of their first road series at the White Sox. Inge fully expects to be ready by that point, and the Tigers fully expect to activate and use him.

Manager Jim Leyland said before Tuesday’s game against the Blue Jays that once Inge is ready, he’ll be activated from the DL and play most days at second base against left-handed starting pitchers. Ryan Raburn, who will garner most of the playing time at second base against right-handed pitchers, will likely play another position against lefties, either DH or left field, in order to get in Inge or Ramon Santiago for an extra right-handed bat.

For his part, Inge expected to be ready for Opening Day in two days, but he couldn’t guarantee it.

“I don’t have a doubt that in two days, this [strain] is going to be out of here,” Inge said. “But they wanted to see me play in today’s game.”

Inge understood why. To make that choice, he said, “They would have to go by chance [that he would ready], and I understand where they’re coming from. I could probably be ready, and that’s the key word: Probably.”

Thus ends, for now, what had been a bubbling issue in public surrounding Inge’s status. Bottom line, Inge has made the squad.

Inge came to camp six weeks ago given the chance to compete for the starting job at second base, trying to fit his way into the mix of Ryan Raburn and Ramon Santiago while Miguel Cabrera took over at third.

Defensively, Inge handled the move better than the Tigers could’ve expected, but the long-running question of whether Inge could hit lingered. He struggled at the plate with a .180 batting average (9-for-50), three doubles, a home run and two RBIs.

Asked Tuesday how he would evaluate his spring, Inge sounded some signs for encouragement.

“A lot of good things,” he said. “I can’t aim it after I hit it. I hit it hard. I played second well. That’s what they wanted to see. I’m fine with it. Nothing I can do about anything else. All decisions are out of my hands.”

Tigers officials echoed the belief that Inge made better contact than the stats would suggest, noting that the strikeout rate was down, albeit in a small sample size compared with regular-season stats from the previous few years.

The combination of Inge’s offensive struggles and encouraging springs from Raburn as well as utility infielder Worth led to speculation about Inge’s status for the past two weeks. He’s in the last year of his contract, with a $5.5 million salary and a $500,000 buyout of his option year for 2013, but the Tigers had shown a willingness to absorb that when they designated him for assignment last July before he agreed to take a stint at Triple-A Toledo.

Any trade speculation died quickly when the Phillies decided to go in another direction to fill their second-base void in the wake of All-Star Chase Utley’s injury.

In the end, however, Leyland and the Tigers see a role for Inge on this club. The question surrounding Inge over the final stages of camp involved was more how he would be used rather than whether he would make the team.

“I think he can be very effective against left-handed pitching,” Leyland said.

Inge said he has handled the situation “same as normal. Just playing the game. I’m just doing what I always do. But it’s part of it. I’m just going to make the most of whatever.”