It had been only a month since we saw Brandon Inge in a Tigers uniform, a bit longer since anyone had heard from Inge’s power stroke. Both seem to be back now, with Inge hitting his second home run of the year in his first at-bat Saturday night – doubling his total for the year. Inge very nearly had a second home run, which would have tripled his total, but the ball hit the top of the wall for a ground rule double. On the day Inge was 2 for 4 with a strikeout, raising his batting average to a still-embarrassing .183.
Now… should we expect any of this to continue?
I and others on this site wrote earlier in the season that the only real difference between this year’s Brandon Inge – who didn’t seem major-league worthy – and last year’s Brandon Inge was a complete power outage. Inge wasn’t striking out much more or walking much less, a contrast to slumping Raburn earlier and slumping Ordonez now. He always pops out too often and always has a low batting average. His defense wasn’t amazing, but still above average. But with a player with those characteristics 1 home run in 215 at-bats isn’t acceptable. If Inge has a few more balls hit over heads and walls instead of into gloves, his BA will float back up to the .230 range (ugh) that we expected from him.
His lack of power earlier might have been caused by fatigue and weakness from his bout of mononucleosis, we don’t really know. Power for all players is a very unreliable asset. We do know that between Inge’s return from the DL and his trip to Toledo, Inge was supposedly healthy (which is why he was taken off the disabled list…) but he hit worse in all respects than he had before that DL stint with a line of .074/.123/.111 in 58 plate appearances with 16 strikeouts and only 2 walks. As soon as he arrived in Toledo, he started smashing the ball with a .519 slugging percentage in 29 AAA games. Maybe a little of this is continuing improvement in health and strength, but I think a lot of it is a clearer head and an improved approach at the plate. Inge has always seemed to have a tendency to get himself out through overthinking, and there is a theory that the reason he played so well offensively as a super-sub in 2004 was that he had to devote all that mental energy to fielding, not his swing.
It shouldn’t ignored that this was a particularly favorable situation for Inge, startin at home with a mediocre lefty on the mound followed by the dismal underbelly of the Cleveland ‘pen. Over his career as a whole Inge has a +67 point home split and a +143 against lefties. If Inge were to start against Ubaldo Jimenez, we might not see him looking so robust. Nonetheless, Brandon Inge looks like he might be healthy enough and competent enough right now to, at the very least, be an ideal platoon partner for Wilson Betemit – starting against lefties and coming in regularly as a defensive replacement.