Inge likely Opening Day center fielder
Versatile defender to fill in while Granderson recovers
VIERA, Fla. -- Brandon Inge came into Spring Training looking for a regular role, and expected to be traded. He's ended up heading into the season with two different roles in Detroit.
Inge was already expected to be the backup catcher with Vance Wilson opening the season on the disabled list. Now with Curtis Granderson out for three weeks, Inge also appears to be the starting center fielder.
"We may have some other options," manager Jim Leyland said, "but I'll probably start Inge on Opening Day in center field."
To prepare for that, Inge started in center field for a second consecutive day on Monday. He played all nine innings, and he's expected to play there for the rest of the week.
It's only a temporary role until Granderson gets back, and while it's expected to move Inge off the trading block for the time being, it remains to be seen what the Tigers will do with him down the road. For now, though, the Tigers arguably need Inge, and Inge isn't necessarily pressing to be dealt.
"I know my role if I'm on this team, which it looks like there's a pretty good chance I am," Inge said. "I'm just going to go about my business and keep quiet."
Said Leyland: "Would we be OK [without Inge]? Yes. But would we be as good with somebody else other than Inge? No."
When Inge reported to camp with pitchers and catchers in mid-February, he and Leyland held a makeshift press conference essentially stating their respective positions, and that Inge would work out as a utility player while the Tigers tried to trade him somewhere with an opening for him to play every day. Inge lost his third-base job when the Tigers traded for Florida's Miguel Cabrera in the offseason.
Not much has changed since. Inge's contract, all three years and $19.1 million remaining on it, has proven the biggest obstacle to any teams that have inquired about him. Meanwhile, Inge has worked out at just about every position on the diamond except first base and pitcher. The only eventful day for him in camp came after he talked about the challenge of trying to hit while catching, which Inge and Leyland supposedly cleared up the next day.
Leyland had another conversation with Inge on Sunday to make sure he understood what could happen.
"I think we've got everything sorted out," Leyland said. "His attitude is tremendous. Our relationship is tremendous. We don't pull any punches. So I think, no matter how this plays out, if he's with us, I think he's going to leave camp a lot happier than when he came in, and a lot more at ease mentally. And he deserves that."
Given the Tigers' situation, it appears he'll be with them for the time being. Asked whether Granderson's injury affects how to approach any Inge trade possibilities, president/general manager Dave Dombrowski was brief.
"It really hasn't changed all along," Dombrowski said. "He's a member of our club. I'm not going to give any updates. He's like everybody else on our team. He's a member of our ballclub."
Inge didn't seem to know much more.
"I can't control what's going on this point," he said. "So I'm just trying to take care of my business, do my job. Anything that happens, happens. All that other stuff -- a trade, where I'm going to play -- it's out of my hands. I don't hold my fate as far as that goes."
Sorting out Detroit's lineup without Granderson in his customary leadoff spot is another challenge, and one that Leyland is still working on. Most likely, he said, Edgar Renteria will become the leadoff hitter against right-handed pitchers, with Ivan Rodriguez "a strong possibility" to fill the role versus lefties.
Renteria hasn't regularly led off a lineup since 2001 in St. Louis, but he has posted on-base percentages of .361 and .390 in the last two seasons. Leyland would rather keep him down in the order for more RBI situations, citing his penchant for driving in key runs, but Detroit's options for batting up top are limited.
Inge will probably bat ninth, behind Rodriguez and left fielder Jacque Jones, who would bat in some sort of combination at seventh and eighth against right-handers.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.