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Published: Wednesday, 4/7/2010

Dlugach hopes to wear 'D'

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST

Jim Leyland did a double-take the first time he and Brent Dlugach crossed paths in the Detroit Tigers' spring training locker room in Lakeland, Fla.

"He looked like a totally different guy," Leyland, the Tigers' manager, said of the young infielder.

Dlugach, the Mud Hens' best player last season, is still listed at 6-foot-4, 200 pounds, but that's going to have to be updated to add some 10 pounds and a ton of muscle that grew out of a grueling offseason conditioning program.

His secret?

"For starters, I ate a lot," he said, laughing.

If only it was that easy.

"Seriously, I tried to eat five or six healthy meals a day," Dlugach said. "Nutrition is important as hard as I was lifting and running. I was doing both six days a week.

"My friends all work in offices. This is my job. They went to work; I went to work in the gym or on the track. The offseason doesn't mean my job stops."

His job is still to get to the major leagues and he did little this spring to hurt those chances.

In 34 at-bats during Tigers exhibition games he had 12 hits (.353) and accounted for 22 total bases while driving in eight runs.

Leyland couldn't stop talking about how impressed he was, but at the same time acknowledged it was "unlikely" Dlugach would make the big league roster.

Sometimes, of course, performance has nothing to do with it. Often those final roster spots come down to who the parent team has a bigger financial stake in or which players have minor league options left and which don't.

So Dlugach was one of the final cuts and will start the season in Toledo, where he was an International League all-star last season while hitting .294 with nine home runs and 59 RBIs.

That was a big year for the shortstop, regardless of the numbers, because he had played in just 29 games during the previous two full seasons after suffering a torn labrum in his right shoulder.

"I hadn't played in a year and a half, really, so I had to get back on the map with the organization," Dlugach said. "It was important to go out and not be hesitant because of my shoulder.

"It was important to play and get the injury out of my mind. It was important to play and play at a high level. I was able to do all of that."

And it will be important to do it again in 2010 because often the last guys sent down are the first players called up.

"I'll make sure Brent understands that no team stays healthy all year; somebody is likely to hit a bump in the road," Hens manager Larry Parrish said. "So guys on our roster have to keep ready."

Plus, there is the added incentive that both of the players on the left side of Detroit's infield, shortstop Adam Everett and gritty but injury-plagued third baseman Brandon Inge, are free agents after the 2010 season. Dlugach can play either position.

"I honestly didn't know that," Dlugach said. "I don't even look at that stuff. I can only control the things I can control."

Parrish thinks Dlugach, whose only negative last season was matching his 137 hits with 137 strikeouts - a trend that repeated itself during spring training - is close to being the real deal.

"He has shown he can play up there, at least as a utility guy," Parrish said. "A little more improvement and consistency with the bat will say whether he's an everyday player in the big leagues."



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