April 26th, 2012
Tigers manager Jim Leyland had his say on the sometimes heated, sometimes bizarre debate/fascination in Detroit with Brandon Inge the other day (here’s the link if you missed it). Once the move was made to release Inge after Thursday’s game, plenty of folks had their say on the reaction, and Inge might have had the steadiest reaction of them all. Of course, Inge said that as he was staring down the road at a fresh start somewhere.
Anyway, here’s the range of quotes from the front office to the clubhouse:
- Inge on the boos at Comerica Park over the homestand: “That’s all right. I’m not worried about any of that. I know that Detroit, this is an emotional city. This is a city that will back you, and you know they want their teams to do well. And when they’re not, they’ll let you know, and there’s nothing wrong with that. That just shows that they’re fans one way or the other. Whether you’re a fan that dislikes someone or a fan that likes someone, you’re still a fan. I respect them all, I really do, and there’s nothing that anyone could ever do that’ll ever change my opinion of Detroit. This organization, it’s been a class act through and through, and I’ve actually been very, very proud to be a part of it.”
- Inge: “I know better. I’ve been here long enough to know how it is in this city, how it is in this whole state. They’re baseball fans. I never get the horror stories that everyone talks about, which is fine. It’s probably because I never listen to anything. I just mind my business. Just play the game I love.”
- Alex Avila: “I was a little upset because of the kind of person I know that he is and what he’s done for the city. And I know he’s had his troubles and he knows that. As players, we know that obviously when you don’t do well, fans want you to do well. But at the same time that’s definitely tough to hear, especially in a place that you call home.”
- More Avila: “He handled it better than I did. I think I was more upset than he was, but that’s just kind of his personality. He’s always been pretty thick-skinned.”
- Team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski: “It only surprised me, I mean, because I get as conflicted a group of letters that you possibly could have about any player that I’ve ever been associated with in my career. Some people [say], ‘Don’t ever do anything with Brandon Inge, because we love him. He’s the best player on the Detroit Tigers,’ to the opposites that say, ‘How can you keep him on the ballclub?’ So I would see it all the time. And I understand the ups and downs, because it’s been there from an offensive perspective. Normally, when you have a guy that really gives their all, which he really has, and represents you the way that he does within the community, it surprises me to that extent. But I also understand, the controversy’s not really about him as a person. It’s about him as a player, because he’s as fine an individual as you’ll ever find and he’s represented us in as fine a fashion as you possibly could.”
- Ramon Santiago: “It’s tough. I know a lot of people love Brandon. That isn’t going to change. They’re going to love him. But you know, that’s something you can’t control. Sometimes that happens and you just have to keep your head up and move forward.”
One of the last Tigers players to file past Brandon Inge’s locker on their way out of the clubhouse and on to New York was Octavio Dotel. He has only been a Tiger for a few months, but he played against Inge for years at plenty of stops.
“I don’t know how you do it, 13 teams,” Inge joked with Dotel as they hugged.
“You keep smiling,” Dotel answered with the smile of a well-traveled veteran.
Inge already had that down.
As long as Inge’s release had been speculated by many, anticipated by some, dreaded by others, the finality of it Thursday — and the timing of it especially — hit the clubhouse hard. There were several red eyes in the clubhouse, including Inge’s.
If his heart was broken, though, he didn’t show it. Odd as it seemed, he handled his release better than his teammates. It was the end of a 12-year Tigers tenure, longest by any player in Detroit since Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker retired, but it was also a fresh start.
“I could see the direction it was going,” Inge said. “Not so much today, but just the direction in general. You can tell when you’re not really getting much playing time. You can tell the lineup he really wants to go with and how you are. Like I said, it’s no hard feelings. If I can’t help this team, I’ll try to go somewhere else and help.”
Inge had arrived at Comerica Park Thursday morning with his bags packed for New York, the Tigers’ next stop. He wasn’t expecting something would happen at this point, but he knew instantly what was happening when someone from the Tigers called him into manager Jim Leyland’s office immediately after the game.
“I mean, I didn’t play in the game,” Inge said, “so there was really no other reason for them to call me in before a road trip.”
When he walked in, he found manager Jim Leyland, team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski, and vice president/assistant GM Al Avila waiting for him.
Alex Avila has had the locker next to Inge for the past two-plus years. He didn’t know anything was happening until he saw Inge shaking hands with other teammates.
“Everybody kept giving him a hug,” Avila said, “and I was [ticked] off about the game and the way we’ve been playing, and then he says that he got released. I’m like ‘Dang. It’s just an awesome day today.’”
He was being sarcastic, of course. He knew Inge for years well before he became a Tiger, back when he was Al Avila’s son.
“I’ve known Brandon for like 10 years now,” he said. “Ever since I came here, when I was just a fan, he’s always been kind of like the heart and soul of the Detroit Tigers, always doing so much for the community. Kind of like a fixture. When the team was bad, to kind of make them turn it around and be competitive year-in and year-out, he’s always been in the thick of things. Definitely a big part of this community and this organization.
“He’d always joke around with me when I was a sophomore in high school. Kind of from the get-go, he’s treated me like a little brother. I remember when I was drafted and I was catching — and he had went back to catching [in 2008] — I remember coming into the clubhouse right before I had to leave to West Michigan after I got drafted and he’s like, hurry up and get up here so I don’t have to catch anymore. Just stuff like that. I mean, great guy.”
When the Tigers called a team meeting in Cleveland at the end of last April, Inge and Avila were leading it. Victor Martinez, who eventually took a leadership role on the team, was out on a rehab assignment at that point. Inge and Avila helped sort things out.
“Something that I learned from him,” he said, “is one way that you gain respect and become a leader on a team is through your actions and the way you treat people. And I’ve been lucky enough to grow up in a great family that has taught me those lessons and also be able to play and experience Major League life next to people like Brandon. Just life lessons you can’t be taught anywhere else.”
Ramon Santiago knows about life lessons with Inge, too. They were teammates on the 2003 team that lost 119 games. They’ve been the last remaining connections to that club ever since Jeremy Bonderman was gone.
Santiago, too, took it particularly hard.
“That’s why it’s hard, because he’s been my teammate for so long,” Santiago said, looking down at the floor while he talked. “And now, it’s tough. But Brandon is a tough guy. I know he’s going to bounce back. He’s going to work hard. He’s a good player.”
Santiago was talking quietly in a clubhouse that was eerily silent, save for people wishing Inge good luck. To many, it was the end of an era. Inge was trying to look at it as a fresh start.
“That’s just the business side of it,” Inge said. “You’ve been around this game long enough you understand how it works. So yeah, of course you don’t let it affect you in any way on the field. But yeah, you prepare yourself. It’s more just common sense.
“I’m always the guy that will cross that bridge when I get to it. And it looks like somebody took out the bridge, so I’ll find another way around.”
The Tigers are giving Austin Jackson the day off he was expected to get Wednesday by essentially replacing him with two players. Andy Dirks returns to the lineup as the designated hitter, making his first start in over a week since straining his left hamstring in Kansas City. He’ll bat leadoff, while Don Kelly starts in center and bats sixth.
Gerald Laird starts behind the plate against Mariners right-hander Hector Noesi.
- Andy Dirks, DH
- Brennan Boesch, RF
- Miguel Cabrera, 3B
- Prince Fielder, 1B
- Delmon Young, LF
- Don Kelly, CF
- Jhonny Peralta, SS
- Ryan Raburn, 2B
- Gerald Laird, C
P: Rick Porcello
- Chone Figgins, LF
- Dustin Ackley, 2B
- Ichiro Suzuki, RF
- Justin Smoak, 1B
- Jesus Montero, DH
- Alex Liddi, 3B
- Michael Saunders, CF
- Miguel Olivo, C
- Brendan Ryan, SS
P: Hector Noesi
Hours after the Tigers made one roster move to get a fresh arm for the bullpen, they made another one Thursday morning. After Tigers coaches and front-office people met, they announced they were optioning Thad Weber back to Triple-A Toledo.
Taking his place will be right-hander Luke Putkonen, who was not on the 40-man roster. The Tigers purchased his contract, using the spot that opened up when Al Alburquerque was transferred to the 60-day disabled list.
Putkonen came out of the same 2007 draft that produced Rick Porcello. The right-hander out of UNC had allowed two runs on nine over 13 innings this season, walking five and striking out 10.
The move has no bearing on who starts Monday in place of Adam Wilk, who was optioned to Toledo after Wednesday night’s loss. Doug Fister threw 50 pitches off the bullpen mound Thursday morning and felt great, but he’ll need at least another side session over the weekend, and probably some more work after that, before he’s ready to pitch in a game.
The Tigers will need a replacement for Fister for at least one more turn through the rotation, and probably two. They have to decide whether to move Duane Below in from the bullpen for that, or call up another starter from the Mud Hens, with Casey Crosby and Andy Oliver the likely candidates.
Adam Wilk’s stint as Doug Fister’s fill-in lasted three starts, and not a moment longer. After the Mariners roughed up Wilk for six runs over two-plus innings, the Tigers announced following the 9-1 loss that they had optioned Wilk to Triple-A Toledo.
Short-term, the Tigers are using the move to bring in reinforcements for a taxed bullpen, recalling Brayan Villarreal from Triple-A Toledo. But sometime before Monday, the Tigers will have to figure out what they’re doing with the rotation spot.
It’s possible, but unlikely, that Fister could be ready to return for that series opener against the Royals to begin next week’s homestand. Fister is scheduled to throw a bullpen session on Thursday, which will be his first mound work in a week, but he has missed nearly three weeks since leaving his season-opening start with his strained left rib cage muscle.
It could be Duane Below, who has spent the season to date in Detroit’s bullpen but competed for a rotation spot in spring training. He pitched six innings last Saturday against the Rangers, so he’s already stretched out. It could be somebody else from Toledo, though Wilk was easily the most effective starter there when they gave him a shot. Casey Crosby has put together back-to-back effective starts for the Hens, while Andy Oliver supposedly looked good his last time out despite five walks in six innings against seven strikeouts.
Leyland did not rule out moving Below out of the bullpen, though he was noncommittal all around.
“We’re just going to have to wait and see what develops,” Leyland said. “I think that he’s settled in there and done a very good job for us. That’s worth a lot. But you just have to weigh your options, and we’re just not ready to do that tonight. I don’t think tonight’s the night to discuss something like that. I think we’ll probably have some discussions in the morning, see what the options are. But he has done very, very well.”
Wilk gave up 10 runs on 21 hits over 11 innings, with the vast majority of that damage coming in his last two starts. To his credit, he did not start trying to pitch around guys and hurt his case with walks, but the quantity of hits hurt him, even if the vast majority of hits didn’t go for extra bases.
Tigers manager Jim Leyland didn’t get a chance to use Andy Dirks’ return to give Austin Jackson a day out of the lineup on Wednesday like he had hoped. But he won’t have to wait any longer on Dirks.
“Dirks is ready to go,” Leyland said after Wednesday’s loss. “He’ll probably play [Thursday].”
If he does, it’ll be his first game action in a week and a half since he strained his left hamstring rounding third base against Kansas City. His absence is far from the main reason for the Tigers’ struggles lately, but it sure hasn’t helped. They’ve struggled to manufacture offense without him.
Leyland likely won’t shake up the lineup with Dirks back, but he’ll get another left-handed bat, one that had been swinging well lately.