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Published: Sunday, 2/28/2010

Inge plans to be ready for opener

ASSOCIATED PRESS

LAKELAND, Fla. - Tigers third baseman Brandon Inge thought that shortly after undergoing surgery in November to repair the tendons in both knees he'd be well enough to fly to his offseason home in South Carolina.

No chance.

"Two days [after surgery], I couldn't bend my legs," Inge said yesterday. "I thought, 'Well, I'll just put that off.' "

Nearly four months later, the 2009 All-Star pick appears well on his way to making a full recovery in time for the Tigers' April 5 season opener at Kansas City.

"He's doing fine," Detroit manager Jim Leyland said. "He's ahead of schedule, by his own admission. Exactly how far ahead of schedule I don't know."

The 32-year-old Inge, who set a career high with 84 RBIs last season and tied his career best with 27 homers, has participated in spring workouts with the team, but won't begin playing until the latter part of spring training.

However, "I could play right now," Inge said.

A year ago, Inge had his best start in the majors, hitting .275 with 18 homers and 52 RBIs through June. He credited that success to a revamped swing that allowed him to stay on the ball better, use all fields and, at long last, stop getting tied up on inside pitches.

"The swing changes really allowed me to take it to the next level," Inge said. "It freed me up to be able to hit everything."

Even during his start, though, Inge's knees didn't feel great.

"Last year in spring training I started to feel it," Inge said. "It wasn't bad, but it was worse than it had been in the past. I would feel it every now and then, but then it progressively got worse."

By the season's second half, Inge, who had patella tendinitis in both knees, was playing in pain every day.

It showed in his numbers.

After July 1, Inge batted .189 and struck out 99 times.

"When I'd bend my leg to drive the ball it felt like someone was stabbing me with a knife," Inge said.

Inge, however, kept on playing (he saw action in 161 games), and contributing to a team that came within a win of reaching the playoffs.

"A lot of guys wouldn't have been playing," Leyland said. "I felt kind of bad about it, but he's bullheaded. He wanted to be out there."

On Nov. 4, Inge had surgery in Michigan.

The tendon in his left knee was "shredded," he said. His right knee had a bone chip.

"The (doctor) said if he didn't know who it was, he would have assumed the guy would have been crippled," Inge said.

After surgery, Inge wore braces on both legs that stretched from his ankles to his thighs for six weeks. When removed, he barely recognized his legs.

Saturday, Inge said he wasn't quite back to 100 percent, but was progressing each day and getting close. He not only is anxious to start playing again, but to return to the form he displayed before the All-Star break in 2009.

Asked if repeating those numbers was possible, Inge smiled. "Without a doubt," he said.



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