Notes: Inge trade still possible
Third baseman trying out other positions, but deal may happen
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Brandon Inge could work out at almost every position on the field during Spring Training. Tigers manager Jim Leyland knows that. Where Inge will work out when the season starts remains a whole other question.
With the first workout for pitchers and catchers scheduled for Friday, Inge's career limbo is about to take a more concrete look, as he puts on catching gear again to go with infielders and outfielders gloves. Still, while Leyland said on Thursday that he has a plan for his former everyday third baseman turned utility player, he also reminded reporters that an Inge trade remains possible between now and Opening Day.
"I think it's a strong possibility," Leyland said, "but I want to wait for him to be here when I discuss him, because I think that's only fair to him."
Leyland and team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski talked with Inge by phone about 2 1/2 weeks ago about preparing to come to camp with the Tigers, acknowledging that they weren't close to a deal to send him to another team. Dombrowski, however, cautioned that they would continue to scan the market for a possible trade match.
With camp now here, Leyland will meet with Inge in person. Then they'll both meet with reporters.
"We both agree on that one meeting with [reporters]," Leyland said. "We'll discuss it and tell you everything. That way, he won't be aggravated every day with somebody at his locker asking if he thinks [a trade] is going to happen. He's not going [to talk] about it and I'm not going to talk about it, because there's nothing to talk about. ...
"Until something happens, he's on the ballclub."
As for what capacity on which he'll be on the club, well, there are plenty of possibilities to that.
In regards to catching, Leyland indicated that Inge will do more than just catch bullpen sessions with pitchers.
The only positions Leyland ruled out at this point for Inge were first base and, obviously, pitcher.
"Inge will work basically everywhere," he said.
Leyland listed Inge's situation as one of the issues that will have to be decided in this camp, part of the choices he has to make with the four roster spots he has for a bench. Whether or not Inge is traded will, of course, have a major effect on that, especially in terms of how Ryan Raburn fits on the club.
Verlander early favorite for opener: Though Leyland said he has yet to decide on an Opening Day starter -- or think much about it, since he has plenty of time for that -- he acknowledged that 18-game winner Justin Verlander is a likely choice.
"I really don't know," Leyland said. "I'll talk about it with [pitching coach] Chuck [Hernandez], but if I was to guess today, I would probably say Verlander. I think he's earned that honor ... but that's not anything etched in stone.
"I don't put a lot of stock in that. I guess it's kind of an honor, but I don't really put a lot of stock in it."
The Tigers open the season at home on March 31 against the Royals. If Verlander starts that game, he'll become the sixth different Tigers pitcher in seven seasons to start on Opening Day. The only Tiger to start more than one opener in that span is Jeremy Bonderman, who earned the honor in 2005 and '07.
Sheff feels fine: Slugger Gary Sheffield, one of a handful of Tigers position players already in camp, said Thursday he's swinging a bat normally and pain-free as he works his way back to game shape from shoulder surgery to repair a labrum tear last October.
Considering that he rarely swings a bat until this time anyway, even in the healthy offseasons, his workout routine now is pretty much business as usual. Once he took a couple test swings this winter and didn't have any pain, he was cleared to work out as normal.
The only difference, Sheffield said, is that he's limiting his throwing work for now to try to ease his arm back into shape. He's currently throwing from about 60 feet, he said, with strength and without pain.
"I have the luxury to not have to throw right now with me DH-ing," Sheffield said. "I can go on really a regimented workout program to make sure I don't have any setbacks."
Barring a major setback, Sheffield expects to be ready for Opening Day, certainly as a designated hitter. When he had similar surgery before the 2004 season, he sat out the first week of Spring Training games and nothing more.
The surgery, he admitted, was more than he expected he would need when he visited the doctor last October. Instead of isolated issues, the injury was more widespread. That he tried to play through such an injury over the second half of last season amazes even him now.
"That's the first thing that went through my mind [following surgery]," Sheffield said. "It almost scares me, because it's like, 'When do I say when to shut it down?' In my mind, I feel like I can play through anything, but it isn't always the wisest thing. When I thought about it, I was like, 'Wow, this is really bad.'
"It explained why I couldn't get my top hand through [on my swing] the second half like I did the first half. But at the same time, it was a relief, knowing it wasn't just me."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.