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Published: Wednesday, 5/7/2008

Inge has new tune: Let me catch

BY JOE VARDON
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Brandon Inge admitted yesterday his "heart wasn't in" catching during spring training. Brandon Inge admitted yesterday his "heart wasn't in" catching during spring training.
PAUL SANCYA / AP Enlarge

DETROIT - Now Brandon Inge wants to catch.

Inge, once the Tigers' primary catcher in 2002 and 2003, balked at the idea of returning to the position as Ivan Rodriguez's backup when he lost his third base job to Miguel Cabrera this offseason.

But Inge sees his best opportunity for playing time is behind the plate, and Tigers manager Jim Leyland said Inge is going to catch more often.

"Obviously, I would rather something come about at third [base], but if it doesn't, that's fine," Inge said. "I'm good with catching too. I just want to start. I don't like sitting. So any which way I can get in there."

Inge admitted yesterday his "heart wasn't in" catching during spring training. But he's caught five games this year - he started at third base last night against the Boston Red Sox - and has grown more comfortable calling games and catching pitches.

It appears catching is the best way for Inge to get on the field for the following reasons:

•Leyland just switched Cabrera with first baseman Carlos Guillen, and refers to Guillen as the Tigers' third baseman.

•Rodriguez, 36, is in his final contract year and may not get a long-term offer from Detroit.

•Rodriguez entered play last night batting .241 with a homer and 12 RBIs.

Leyland said Inge is going to catch more, especially if Rodriguez continues to slump.

"I think now that [Inge has] probably seen the light," Leyland said. "He's pretty good at [catching]. He's actually receiving the ball outstanding. I think he's been back there a few times and he's enjoying it a little bit."

It was Inge who initiated the discussion with Leyland about wanting to catch.

Inge signed a four-year, $24 million contract extension before last season with the idea he would be the Tigers' primary third baseman, but a .236 batting average last year and the acquisition of Cabrera changed those plans.

Inge, who openly hoped for a trade because he couldn't play third base in Detroit, told Leyland in the last week he was comfortable catching again. Inge also told Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski that he would still rather play third base, but his heart was back in catching as well.

DESIGNATING HITTERS: Guillen took over for Magglio Ordonez as the Tigers' designated hitter last night, while Gary Sheffield played left for the second straight night.

Leyland said Matt Joyce, just called up from Toledo, would DH tonight against Boston, and Marcus Thames would also assume that role. The Tigers manager said Ordonez would not DH on a regular basis.

Leyland conceded he doesn't have a regular DH. He said he is waiting to see if Sheffield's return to the outfield pans out.

Sheffield will likely be in left field again tonight and possibly tomorrow before getting a break.

WORKING OUT: Convinced Cabrera can be a "great first baseman," Leyland and infield coach Rafael Belliard were out early yesterday teaching Cabrera the position's fundamentals.

Cabrera put in early work Monday without Leyland watching and will work again today and later this week with the manager present.

"His willingness to be the best defensive first baseman he can be will make him a great first baseman, if he wants it bad enough" Leyland said. "We're going to give him every opportunity to do it, because we're going to work his [butt] off over there."

Contact Joe Vardon at:

jvardon@theblade.com

or 419-410-5055.



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