Veteran free-agent addition Inge can make impact for Pirates


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BRADENTON, Fla. -- Brandon Inge has spent enough time in spring training to know that opportunities arise from situations seemingly devoid of them.

"You never know what's going to happen," Inge said. "You could have your team completely set in stone and, by the end of spring training, with injuries and a guy that proved himself better than what you thought, you could have a completely different team on paper."

Inge, who joined the Pirates last week on a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training, added another variable to an already complicated bench equation. Michael McKenry and Gaby Sanchez will fill two of the five open bench spots. An outfielder -- possibly Jose Tabata, who is out of minor league options -- will take a third, and an infielder such as Josh Harrison or Jordy Mercer could take the fourth. Inge joins Jerry Sands, Clint Robinson and Alex Presley, in addition to other non-roster invitees, in the competition to fill the bench.

Spring Training Report: Manager Clint Hurdle

Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle talks to the media from the Pirates' spring training camp in Bradenton, Fla. (Video by Peter Diana; 2/19/2013)

Spring Training Report: Brandon Inge

Pittsburgh Pirates infielder Brandon Inge talks to the media from the Pirates' spring training camp in Bradenton, Fla. (Video by Peter Diana; 2/17/2013)

Spring Training Report: Jerry Sands

The Pirates' Jerry Sands talks to the media from spring training camp in Bradenton, Fla. (Video by Peter Diana; 2/19/2013)

"There are spots that are going to be open," Inge said. "On a daily basis, there's going to be somebody who's going to need a day, right-handed, left-handed matchups, something like that."

Inge's defensive versatility will work in his favor. Though primarily a third baseman, Inge has played all three outfield positions in addition to second base and catcher.

"There's a lot of labels in baseball," Inge said. "I really have never cared. There's been kind of a misunderstanding with me. I don't care if I'm starting at a ton of different positions."

Inge played for the Detroit Tigers from his rookie season in 2001 to 2012 and made the American League All-Star team in 2009. When the Tigers signed Prince Fielder before the 2012 season and then moved Miguel Cabrera to third base, Inge's playing time decreased.

Inge made only 20 plate appearances in nine games for the Tigers last season before they released him in late April. He signed with the Oakland A's days later and joined their improbable playoff run, hitting 11 home runs in 311 plate appearances despite a .226 average and .286 on-base percentage.

"That was a blast," Inge said. "I'm going to have fun no matter where I go. You're not going to tell me otherwise. We just played, just had fun."

Inge had surgery in mid-September to repair the labrum in his right shoulder. He said he has entered the final stages of rehabilitation and feels good, but needs to avoid going all-out.

"I guess I have to set my sights on April," he said. "There's really no reason to get hurt in the process when you don't really need to. I have no pain. It's just a matter of trying to be smart about it."

When Inge can fully exert himself, he will have to prove to the Pirates that he can replicate his performance in Oakland. In the past three seasons, Inge has a .227 average and .294 on-base percentage.

"He's had some real good years in the major leagues, he's been challenged with some adversities," manager Clint Hurdle said. "There [were] a number of teams chasing him and talking with him."

Hurdle deal done

The Pirates officially exercised Hurdle's 2014 contract option Tuesday and added a club option for 2015. Hurdle said the contract discussions began about a week ago and culminated with face-to-face meetings the past few days.

"I'm very humbled and I'm looking forward to the challenge that's in front of us," Hurdle said.

"Our focus was, we believe he's the right manager for us," general manager Neal Huntington said. "He's carried us forward. He's allowed us to take significant steps forward as an organization."

Tightness slows Karstens

Jeff Karstens said Tuesday he has some tightness in his right biceps and will avoid throwing off a mound for the time being.

The biceps tightened on Karstens in the past few days, he said.

"It felt really good after my second bullpen," he said. "It just really didn't bounce back. We've had that cold weather come in too.

"I don't know if that hinders it a little bit. I don't think it's anything that's going to be crazy. I'm just trying to be smart now."

Karstens said he has not had an MRI, and that the biceps has not bothered him in the past.

"Rather than push the issue, instead of throwing the batting practice, we put him on the flat ground," Hurdle said.

"Our focus is to have him ready come April.

"I think it was good that he was proactive with it. There's no alarms going off."

Karstens was limited to 902/3 innings last season because of shoulder and hip injuries.

Looking ahead

• Game: Pirates at Tampa Bay Rays in their spring opener, Port Charlotte, Fla.

• When: 1:05 p.m. Saturday.

• Radio: KDKA-FM (93.7).

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Bill Brink: bbrink@post-gazette.com and Twitter @BrinkPG. First Published February 20, 2013 5:00 AM


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