PHILADELPHIA -- As if playing with the up-and-comers in the Class AAA International League wasn't enough of a reminder of Brandon Inge's age, an umpire made sure to point it out.
Told the 35-year-old Inge hadn't played shortstop since 1998 in college at Virginia Commonwealth, the ump said, "Man, I was 12 years old then."
"Just shut your mouth," Inge replied, playfully. "Zip it. Don't ever call me out again."
Inge played shortstop Monday night for the first time in his professional career, a final defensive preparation before the Pirates activated him from the 15-day disabled list Tuesday and recalled him from his rehabilitation assignment. The Pirates optioned outfielder Alex Presley to Class AAA Indianapolis to make room.
Manager Clint Hurdle immediately inserted Inge into Tuesday's lineup, replacing Pedro Alvarez at third base and batting Inge seventh against Philadelphia left-hander Cole Hamels. The move dovetails with what Hurdle hopes to receive offensively from the right-handed Inge: a batter capable of power off the bench who can help the Pirates improve their performance against left-handers.
"It was one of the soft spots for us at times last year," Hurdle said. "It's kind of jumped out already this year. We've got a handful of guys that haven't gotten out of the blocks the way we'd like them, and with his versatility we can give any of those guys a blow as far as matching up."
The Pirates entered Tuesday's game hitting .169 with a .253 on-base percentage and .254 slugging percentage against left-handers.
Inge, who can play almost anywhere on the diamond, will provide defensive versatility but his performance the past few seasons suggests he will not greatly impact the offense.
On offense in 2012, Inge provided the Oakland Athletics with power, but not much else. He had a .286 on-base percentage and 24 walks compared to 85 strikeouts for Oakland, but hit 11 home runs in 311 plate appearances after Detroit let him go.
Inge's on-base-plus-slugging percentage against left-handers has decreased from .817 in 2010 to .717 in 2011 and .693 last season. He hit .236 with 16 home runs in 351 at-bats against left-handers from 2010-12.
"You're not going to change a guy, his on-base percentage is what it is, but he's also stayed in the big leagues for a long period of time because of what he's able to do," Hurdle said.
Inge, who signed with the Pirates in spring training as a minor league free agent, was on a rehabilitation assignment with Class AAA Indianapolis that would have expired Tuesday. He was hit with a pitch in spring training that resulted in an incomplete fracture of his right scapula. His spring training was already curtailed as he recovered from complicated offseason shoulder surgery.
Inge went 9 for 60 in 18 games on his rehab assignment, hitting two doubles and two home runs.
"I actually was putting some good wood on the ball," Inge said. "That's all I really cared about doing."
Inge enjoyed his time in Indianapolis, he said, and shortstop came back to him quickly.
"I played shortstop my entire childhood, all the way through high school, all the way through college," he said. "Getting there, positioning was a little different because it didn't seem the same, doesn't look the same. As soon as the game started rolling, everything came right back to me. It was like riding a bike."
First Published April 24, 2013 4:00 AM