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Longtime Detroit Tiger Brandon Inge still has plenty of supporters among Toledo Mud Hens fans.
Inge, who is in his 11th season with the Tigers organization, received a nice round of applause from a crowd of 9,089 at Fifth Third Field in pre-game intros Tuesday night. Inge later reciprocated with a three-run home run that sent the Mud Hens to a 7-4 win over Norfolk.
Inge had struggled at the plate this season and Detroit outrighted his contract to Toledo Tuesday afternoon. Inge started at third base and batted sixth in the Hens’ order. He went 3-for-4 with a double, homer, and he drove in four runs.
“I’m very appreciative of these fans,” Inge said. “It’s good to know they have your back.”
Several fans wore Inge’s No. 15 Tigers jersey as the Mud Hens began an eight-game homestand.
“Toledo and Detroit are both blue collar cities,” he said. “I feel like they appreciate someone that plays hard. That’s all you can control.”
With the game tied at 4 and two outs in the seventh inning, Inge smacked a line shot over the left-field fence.
“For him to be here says a lot about him as a man and a teammate,” Mud Hens manager Phil Nevin said. “He’s not just collecting a paycheck. He swallowed his pride. You heard the reception for him. It was neat to see.”
Inge was hitting just .177 with one home run in 70 games for the Tigers this season.
“When you hit rock bottom after 10 years in the big leagues [and] get sent down to Toledo, I decided not to stress out about it anymore and play baseball the way I know how,” Inge said. “I know I can turn it around. I want to finish the season out with the Tigers. I don’t want to quit on a team. I’d rather fight and claw my way back up. If they go a different way, at least I gave it my all.”
Inge, who is the longest-tenured Tiger, re-signed with the team last fall. He is in the first year of a two-year, $11 million contract. Tuesday night, Inge said he let mechanics go.
“I was just having fun and being confident,” he said. “They harp so much in the big leagues on results and hits and I’m completely over that right now. I wasn’t swinging like a .170 hitter. My results weren’t showing it. I’m just going to do my thing.”
Inge tied the game at 4 in the fifth inning with a hard, sharply hit line single to left field that scored Ryan Strieby. Strieby had pulled Toledo within one run on an RBI double.
The Mud Hens took a 1-0 lead in the first on Strieby’s sac fly and added another run on a sac fly from Max St. Pierre in the second inning.
Mud Hens starter Brayan Villarreal was sharp early, but gave up four earned runs over 5 2/3 innings. Norfolk went up 4-2 on Jake Fox’s two-run double in the fifth inning.
Daniel Schlereth (1-0) pitched 1 1/3 innings and gave up one hit. Ryan Perry picked up his fifth save by allowing one hit over the last two innings. Clete Thomas went 3-for-4 with two doubles and a run scored.
Inge was designated for assignment on July 22 after the Tigers acquired Wilson Betemit from Kansas City. Inge led off the fourth with a line double to the left field corner.
“He has unfinished business up there,” Nevin said. “He still has a lot of confidence.”
Inge, 34, came to Toledo for a rehab stint from June 16-22. Inge, who had been on the disabled list suffering from mononucleosis, went 7 for 28 (.250) here.
“My way of playing now is having fun and relaxing in the batter’s box,” he said. “It’s baseball, it’s supposed to be fun.”
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