Spring training | Veteran Brandon Inge plans to make Pirates' roster, help young players

jdill@bradenton.comFebruary 22, 2013 

BRADENTON -- Brandon Inge took grounders at third base.

He also fielded balls at first base, flipping underhand to teammate Pedro Alvarez during the Pittsburgh Pirates' workout Thursday at Pirate City.

Inge's versatility and playoff experience attracted the Pirates to the major-league veteran heading into this season.

Inge spent the past 12 seasons with the Detroit Tigers and Oakland Athletics. The A's signed Inge after the Tigers released him in late April. He became a free agent after the 2012 season

Pittsburgh signed Inge to a minor-league contract with an opt-out clause if he isn't on the Opening Day roster.

Pittsburgh's reputation as a blue-collar city was the perfect fit for the 35-year-old.

"I don't know any other way," Inge said. "I'm going to work my (butt) off no matter what. I've never been handed anything, and I've always had to work for it. And I don't have a problem with it; it's the way I

was brought up."

Inge wore many hats with the Tigers, playing all three outfield positions, catcher, second base and third base.

But the hot corner is where Inge has spent the majority of his playing time.

And on Thursday, Inge demonstrated another valuable asset that he brings to the Pirates' camp: mentoring.

During fielding drills at one of Pirate City's fields, Inge took time in between fielding grounders to offer some tips to Alvarez, Pittsburgh's current third baseman.

"It was a pretty easy read for me to get on him very early," said Inge of the 26-year-old Alvarez. "He wants to do well. And there's some things that I wasn't blessed with the best abilities as far as anything goes in baseball, but I worked at it over the years. For me, I understand a lot about defense, and there's a lot of things I can help him with or help anyone with for that matter."

Inge wasn't worried about just focusing on his game, where he is fighting to make the club as a utility player. He is passing down knowledge he has picked up during the past 12 seasons to a younger player who is eager to improve.

"Brandon Inge is a major-league player with experience, with playoff experience," said Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle early in camp after the Pirates signed Inge, who played in the playoffs for Detroit in 2006 and 2011. "He's had some real good years in the major leagues. He's been challenged with some adversity, some injuries. Been with one club, still wanted to play. ... He was able to reignite last year, until he got hurt when he went to Oakland. We've liked this guy. There's a lot to like. The intangibles, the tangibles, the on-field performance, the skill set but as well as being a grown man that's been a very good component on winning teams as well as a good teammate."

Inge produced a .658 on-base-plus-slugging percentage that included a .218 average before a right shoulder injury ended his season in early September. Inge had surgery on that shoulder in the offseason and did not throw across the diamond in Thursday's workout.

"I have to take it slow," said Inge, who was an All-Star in 2009 when he smacked a career high-tying 27 home runs. "They have me on a program right now, and it's probably smart. Everything that you see right now, everybody can make a big deal out of. But they are smart in saying April 1st, that's the goal. Getting ready by then. If it was up to me, I'd try to do everything right now. But they are helping me by pulling the reins back on me a little bit, making me ease back into it and getting it right."

Inge was an integral piece in the Tigers' rise from baseball laughingstocks in the early 2000s to a perennial playoff contender that made the Fall Classic in 2006 and again last season.

Detroit's slow shift from mediocrity to success came with major moves that included acquiring Miguel Cabrera from the Marlins. Ivan Rodriguez also arrived, which mirrors a move Pittsburgh made in landing free-agent catcher Russell Martin.

Both backstops had playoff experiences prior to heading to the Motor City and the Steel City.

Inge has that, too, which adds to the feeling that Pittsburgh is putting players in camp with that pedigree that could allow the club to finally get over the hurdle of making the postseason, something they've failed to do in the second half the past two years.

"Collectively as a team you have to have the right mindset," Inge said. "I'm not a fortune teller, but I imagine that's what it's going to take. Just one day at a time."

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