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Inge Watch: He Doesn't Care to Pop a Squat

Yesterday against the Cleveland Indians, Brandon Inge saw his first game action of the spring at catcher. And it appears his three innings behind the plate made him wistful for the position he was booted from during the winter.

"Catching right there absolutely reinforces that third-base is my all-time love," Inge said. "It's not even a question. If it came down to it, where I was just catching, I'd have to find a way to separate it. I don't know if I can, because I take too much pride in the catching aspect."

What exactly is Inge talking about? Is he trying to tell us that catching is great, but the position deserves better? It's not catching; it's him? Well, sort of. Inge would like to see other positions. But it's about the bat, according to Inge's phone tag partner, Lynn Henning.

"The part I really don't like about catching, about slipping back into the mold, is that I take pride in running a pitching staff more than anything. And it's hard for me to separate catching from hitting.

"I get to the plate and I'm still in the mind-set of catching. Hitting is just so back-burner."

This reminds me of the argument that would come up whenever anyone proposed that moving Inge back to catcher someday might be a good idea. "Well, it might affect his hitting." To which the counterpoint could be, "Okay, but how much worse would it really make him?"

I don't want to just take potshots at Inge's 2007 statistics, because I don't think he's dog meat as a player - which is some of what I'm hearing from sports talk radio callers - and would like to see this super-sub thing work out. Plus, it sounds like Inge has made some adjustments and is swinging the bat well right now.

But this spade is a spade. If slipping back into catcher's mode takes his mind off hitting, exactly what was distracting him so mightily last season?

On one hand, Inge is offering some insight into the mental burden that comes with playing catcher. Thinking about calling the game is prep work that isn't required at other positions on the field. And as fans, I'm not sure we always appreciate just how difficult something like this can be for a baseball player. Plenty of us, however, can relate to being asked to do something at work that we don't want to do.

But I also think Inge needs to be really careful here. As far as I can tell, he still has the goodwill of Tigers fans on his side. Yet while it's certainly more interesting to read candid statements than hackneyed cliches, Inge is toeing a thin line between being appreciated for his frankness and being perceived as kind of a whiner. And there are already some who view him as a malcontent and potential clubhouse cancer. (I think there's quite a way to go before I join that mob.) Detroit sports fans can turn on a guy fast. Ask Bobby Higginson.

UPDATE (8:00 p.m.): I don't know if Jim Leyland has talked to Inge about this, but he's definitely seen the same comments we've all read and realizes Inge doesn't want to be a catcher. Does that mean Leyland will eventually call Inge into his office and let him know what's expected from him as long as he's with the Tigers? We'll see, though Leyland has been publicly sympathetic toward Inge.

In the meantime, Inge is set to play center field tomorrow. And while Vance Wilson increasingly looks as if he won't be ready for Opening Day, Leyland is considering Dane Sardinha for the backup catcher spot.