Monday, August 4, 2008

Tigers Update

Swept away in Tampa Bay, and now they’re below .500.

Meanwhile, Brandon Inge settles in behind home plate.

Tigers manager Jim Leyland thought about giving Brandon Inge a break on Sunday, as Detroit headed into the afternoon contest on the heels of two long, draining losses to the Rays.

A few years ago, Inge would have gladly taken off the catching gear. But these days, the newly christened starting backstop loves every minute of being behind the plate.

In the wake of Ivan Rodriguez’s trade to the Yankees on Wednesday, the 31-year-old Inge — who was the Tigers’ primary catcher from 2001-03 — has seemingly come full circle.

When he was called up as an injury replacement for catcher Mitch Meluskey in 2001, Inge struggled to separate his defense from his offense, and often felt he shouldered the blame of the Tigers’ struggles.

“It was never anything physical, it was all mental,” he said of his inconsistency at the plate.

Still, Detroit shopped for help elsewhere and signed Rodriguez as the starting backstop, delegating Inge to third base for the previous three seasons.

“Out of catcher, I matured as a player,” Inge said. “It slowed the game down a lot and I was able to approach [catching this time around] as more of a veteran.”

Even now, Inge admits the first half-dozen times he was behind the plate, he started to let those bad memories creep in. It is only recently that he realized that catching this season is “not in any way, shape or form” reminiscent of the past.

In fact, Inge’s progression behind the plate is part of the reason the Tigers were able to part with Rodriguez — a future Hall of Famer — in the middle of the season. The club fully expects the longest-tenured Tiger to assume the catching duties this season and beyond.

“It was one of those things, you had to give it time,” Inge said. “Just wait and let it play out.”

Next stop, Chicago and the White Sox.