Healthy, at last, Inge eyes one of final three bench spots
March 13, 2013 8:00 AM
Can Brandon Inge hit his way into a spot as a utility player off the bench?
By Bill Brink Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Six months after a complicated shoulder surgery, Brandon Inge finally took the field on defense.
Inge played third base in the Pirates' split-squad game Sunday against the Minnesota Twins after serving as the designated hitter thus far this spring.
"I don't really have the attention span to be a good DH," Inge joked over the weekend.
"I feel like I have no limitations. That's all I was really looking for in the beginning."
Inge's return to the field comes against the backdrop of the Pirates' impending roster decisions. The team has 16 exhibition games remaining before the start of the season, and Inge, a non-roster invitee, is fighting for a bench spot.
"Brandon Inge brings some presence," manager Clint Hurdle said. "He brings some experience. To have a guy on the bench who's capable and done some things would help."
Inge said the Pirates have indicated to him that they would like for him to make the active roster, but he has seen enough spring trainings to take that with a grain of salt.
"I'm not a guy that's going to take advantage of anything," Inge said. "I still have to earn it. There's a lot of good guys in this clubhouse. At this point in my career, I know what I'm capable of doing. My numbers are my numbers. I do what I do.
"Yeah, I feel like I could help the ballclub, but, at the same time, they're the ones that make the decisions. No matter what they've told me, it doesn't really matter. Things can always change in spring."
So far, Inge's spring has differed from the norm while he rehabilitated his right shoulder. The injury occurred in August, while Inge's Oakland A's were becoming surprise playoff contenders. He went on the disabled list after dislocating his shoulder diving for a ball and returned, but re-injured the shoulder on a throw Sept. 1. Inge remained in the game to bat and hit a two-run double in his final plate appearance of the season.
"In a year like this, you don't leave anything on the table," Inge told the San Francisco Chronicle at the time. "I literally gave everything I had to offer to this team. And I'm at peace with it."
Inge said the surgery reattached a portion of the shoulder socket bone that had broken off and repaired a torn labrum.
"It was a mess," he said.
Of the five position players on the bench, Michael McKenry and Gaby Sanchez will occupy two spots, so Inge needs to earn one of the other three. One will go to a backup outfielder -- likely Jose Tabata, who is out of options -- and at least one to someone who can play shortstop, such as Josh Harrison or Jordy Mercer.
"The question with Brandon's going to be the bat, and is there still enough, in our minds, that he can help us offensively off the bench," general manager Neal Huntington said.
One thing, though: Each one of those players bats right-handed. Clint Robinson, Alex Presley, Brad Hawpe and Felix Pie are the left-handed bench options currently in camp.
"You would like some complement off the bench so Clint's got the ability to go to a left-handed hitter or a right-handed hitter," Huntington said. "At the same time, we don't want to force one or the other onto the bench."
Hurdle mentioned the desire to carry power on the bench as well.
"You'd like to have two guys on the bench that can win you the ballgame with a swing of the bat," he said.
Inge, 35, played primarily third base in his 12-year major league career, though Hurdle said Inge could play first and second this spring. Harrison has played 64 major league games at third, his most at any position. Sanchez has played some third this spring, the first time for him since Class AAA in 2009, but Hurdle said Sanchez would be another option in case Pedro Alvarez was hurt or needed a day off, not the primary backup.
"Your first option's probably going to be your utility infielder," Hurdle said.