Notes: Inge breaks through at the plate
Third baseman gets on track after a slow spring start
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Brandon Inge knows he hasn't been hitting well this Spring Training. Considering how well he had hit in previous springs, that's not a huge priority. But he'll still take his five RBIs Friday.
"I still might be peaking too soon," Inge joked.
He hit .304 with a team-high 19 RBIs last spring, yet barely hit .220 over the first two months of the regular season. He hit .333 in each of the previous two Spring Trainings and hit well out of the gate once the regular season began, but never felt the connection between the two.
So when he entered Friday batting .138 (4-for-29) with no extra-base hits, and hitless in four straight games, he liked to think of it as saving his hits for the regular season. He made an early withdrawal against the Phillies with a bases-clearing double and two-run triple, and he called them his first two well-hit balls of the spring.
"This is really the first spring I've had where I haven't jumped out the first couple weeks and felt good," Inge said. "Usually I feel really good in spring."
Instead, he thinks, the bad start kind of compounded. He felt his timing was out of whack at the start, made some small adjustments to compensate, and ended up with some bad habits. They weren't anything that couldn't be fixed, but Inge isn't a student of swing mechanics. It wasn't a huge deal, but enough that Tigers manager Jim Leyland talked with him Friday morning and moved him up in the lineup that day to get him a chance at an extra at-bat.
"He was trying something and wasn't seeing the ball good early on," Leyland said.
Inge saw plenty in the afternoon. He came up in the fifth inning to greet Phillies reliever Brian Sanches after Freddy Garcia gave up a run and loaded the bases. Sanches missed with his first two pitches and had to come over the plate, allowing Inge to strike and center the ball. Inge's triple was an opposite field shot in the seventh off the right-field wall.
"I go on feel," Inge said. "I felt that swing to center. I felt that swing to right. You start to make adjustments and stuff from there. But if you haven't hit a ball hard all spring, it's kind of hard to make adjustments off of that."
Not that he was worried.
"I don't care if I get zero hits in Spring Training," Inge said, "as long as I go about it the right way."
Sheffield update: Gary Sheffield was not with the team on Friday as his excused absence continued to tend to legal matters. Leyland said his slugger will rejoin the team on Saturday in Dunedin to face the Blue Jays. It would be his first game action since Monday against the Devil Rays.
Up to speed: While the Detroit Tigers were on the road, the Lakeland Flying Tigers installed a large new radar gun board in the outfield.
"I donated it," joked fireballer Joel Zumaya, known for looking at the radar readings on Comerica Park's scoreboard when he's pitching during the regular season. He says he's over that now, though Leyland remains skeptical.
"Zumaya looks up at every pitch," Leyland said.
That said, Leyland is not worried about Zumaya or any of his other pitchers thinking too much about velocity in Spring Training, when they're usually building up their arm strength.
"The hitting tells you if it's good enough or not," Leyland said. "[The radar gun] is show business."
Injury update: Carlos Guillen missed Thursday's road trip with what Leyland called flu-like symptoms, but he was well enough to serve as the designated hitter on Friday.
"He's still not back to 100 percent," Leyland said.
He looked rather close to it in the game, reaching base safely three times and scoring twice, and he said afterwards that he felt fine. After walking in the first inning, he moved aggressively when Vance Wilson's pop fly fell in between the right fielder and center fielder. Not even stopping at second base, he headed for third but was thrown out.
"He was better," Leyland said afterwards. "I didn't want to push him."
Coming up: The Tigers travel to Dunedin on Saturday for a 1:05 p.m. ET game against the Blue Jays at Knology Field. Jeremy Bonderman will try out his changeup again in the start. Todd Jones, Fernando Rodney, Joel Zumaya, Felix Heredia and Wilfredo Ledezma are also slated to pitch. Gustavo Chacin is scheduled to take the mound for Toronto. Position players expected to make the trip include Sheffield, Ivan Rodriguez, Inge and Magglio Ordonez.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.