Examining the complex return of Brandon Inge

Brandon Inge is scheduled to rejoin the Detroit Tigers this coming Friday evening at the onset of their 3-game series with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

That sound you hear might be the collective moaning and groaning from Tigers fans far and wide. Inge hasn’t played since June 1st and when he did land on the DL during his bout with mononucleosis, he was batting a paltry (even for him) .211 with 1 homer and 12 RBI’s, while striking out 27% of the time.

Tigers fans have often had a love/hate relationship with the long-time 3rd baseman. As in they either love him outright or hate the offensive inconsistencies in his game so much that they can’t come to appreciate what he does bring to the team (defense/leadership). Even the tried-and-true Inge supporters have been put to the test this year.

Don Kelly does the little things

The collective hope was that with a 15-day DL stint, Inge would get some time to clear his head, rid his muscle memory of the bad swing habits he brought to the park this year, and find his way back to being the mid .200’s hitter with pop that we all know exists in there somewhere.

With that said, little comfort has been brought by Inge’s .190 start in his rehab stint with AAA Toledo. He is 4 for 21 (all singles) through 5 games and is striking out 33% of the time against minor league pitching, albeit in a small sample-size.

Detroit is 10-8 as of this writing without the services of Brandon Inge.

So where does he fit in upon his return?

Don Kelly has started 13 games during Inge’s absence and has hit from the 2-hole in the batting order. Since Inge landed on the disabled list, Kelly has gone 13 for 49 (.265) with 6 RBI’s and often has been the bridge to a big inning by getting a key hit to extend the frame. He has had a few lapses defensively but by and large has held his own and even has thrown in a few spectacular plays along the way.

Will Jim Leyland go platoon-style and start Kelly against righties and Inge only against lefties, or just 1-3 times/week? Don’t bet on it.

“Patient Jim” is a loyalist and as much as he loves himself some Don Kelly, Inge has grabbed hold of a substantial portion of Leyland’s love and affection since the skipper arrived in Detroit, perhaps more than any other player to suit up for him.

And don’t forget what else Inge grabbed hold of; a new 2-year contract in the offseason. This is the same type of contract that has seemingly prevented the struggling Ryan Raburn from earning his annual demotion to AAA to figure out what ails his bat this time.

Apparently then, contractual status bears some weight in the playing time that is being doled out around Comerica Park these days. Meanwhile, fans clamor for another shot at a playoff run like in 2006.

Conveniently, fans are not burdened with trying to balance a clubhouse, keeping bit players from feeling unappreciated, and doing what is hopefully best in the long run. Fans want wins now and they want a long overdue pennant come the end of September.

The main complication of adding Inge back into the fold is that it sucks Kelly back out of the 2-hole in the lineup and onto the bench, leaving a glaring vacancy to be filled in Leyland’s batting order.

Much of the lineup is well-settled. Austin Jackson bats lead-off and Brennan Boesch, Miguel Cabrera, and Victor Martinez will continue to be the 3-5 hitters. Jhonny Peralta and Alex Avila will remain in the bottom half for fear of taking them out of their comfort zones.

Magglio Ordonez

This leaves the 2, probably 8, and also the 9 spots to be filled in the regular batting order. Inge, when he plays, will bat 9th. Ryan Raburn will continue to get his chance to battle out of his slump and that will likely be from the 8th spot in the order, nudging Peralta up to 6th and Avila to 7th.

So what do the Tigers do with the #2 slot? In case you haven’t noticed, Magglio Ordonez’s name has yet to come up in this piece. Maggs makes a lot of sense as the player to hit 2nd behind Jackson and in front of Boesch, unless you consider his current .172 batting average that is.

However, don’t sleep on the fact that Ordonez has hit .313 since first donning the Tigers “D” back in 2005. Yes, his power is in decline but his ability to shoot balls to the right side and advance runners makes him well-suited for the role, ala Placido Polanco from 2006-2009.

The Tigers gave Maggs $10M this past offseason because the guy can hit. He is a minus defender, a slow baserunner, and his arm is about to force a nickname change to “Raggs”, but he can still hit. He has had plenty of bad luck since his return to the lineup, lining out sharply in no less than 4 at-bats in the Cleveland series.

As good of a signing as Victor Martinez was this offseason, Ordonez has been equally as bad. It’s time to put him in a spot that matches his current skill set so that he can provide some return on the organization’s sizeable investment.

The idea of Magglio being a major run producer in the 3-hole may have passed and in a tight division the Tigers quite frankly do not have the luxury of finding out if it hasn’t.

On days where Ordonez needs a rest, Andy Dirks or Casper Wells could seamlessly slide into the 2nd slot in the order.

It just makes too much sense to bat Ordonez anywhere other than 2nd. We’ll find out on Friday.

For info on which Tigers will make the All-Star team, and which are likely to get snubbed, click here.

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  • Brig

    “Sample Size” lol. I am ready for a new look Tiger’s Team. Start the fire sale with Mags and Inge. Get a space filler until Kirk Gibson is available and just clean the slate top to bottom. No reasonable offer should be refused. Even run a special. Buy 1 player get Ryan Rayburn free.

  • Oldgray

    I’ve loved Brandon for years.  His is the only Tiger jersey I own.  I think he’s earned a certain amount of fan loyalty and most of the carping about him I read is pin-headed.  That said,  he has to produce.  He’s a pro and a veteran, so he’s gotta know that.  If he can’t raise his average and lower his percent of K’s, he’s gotta sit.  His contract matters little.  We pay him if he plays or not.  But if he plays and we lose, what’s the point.  I hope and pray he comes back and has a second half like his first half in ’09, but if he can’t do that, he ought to be man enough to bench himself.  (But let’s not kid ourselves — Kelly is NOT a third baseman.)

  • http://twitter.com/isportsJoe Joe White

    Not very likely Chris. He’s stunk all year and hasn’t had mono since April. The good news is Inge hit 2 bombs yesterday at Toledo. I think him playing is a foregone conclusion. The big underlying question is where to bat Magglio in the lineup.

  • http://twitter.com/isportsJoe Joe White

    Not very likely Chris. He’s stunk all year and hasn’t had mono since April. The good news is Inge hit 2 bombs yesterday at Toledo. I think him playing is a foregone conclusion. The big underlying question is where to bat Magglio in the lineup.

  • Chris R

    Tigers needed Brandon to stay Inge-ured a little longer, but my gut tells me he’ll be getting the majority of starts at 3B while healthy.   What’s the possibility that his bout with mono was partially responsible for his miserable stats to date?

  • Anonymous

    I like the idea of batting Magglio 2nd, makes a lot of sense to me. I’d like to see Kelly and Inge split time at 3B, but like you said Leyland is going to be very loyal to a guy like Inge. It will be interesting to see how it shakes out.