For the Whitecaps, that hope came in the form of a relatively surprising rehab start by Tigers 3B Brandon Inge on Tuesday at home against Great Lakes. Inge, whose hand was broken after it was hit by a pitch from Texas Rangers righty Scott Feldman in a game on July 19, was expected to miss about four to six weeks with the injury.
A little over two weeks later, Inge already feels as though he is ready for the big leagues again.
"I feel surprisingly good," Inge said following the 'Caps 6-7 loss against the Loons on Tuesday. "I don't have any pain, and I thought I would. After a couple of at bats I felt a little achy, but I'll take that any day over the sharp pain that kept me from swinging. I'm happy with where I am right now. I don't see any reason why I can't head on back (to Detroit)."
It sounds as though, if given the choice, Inge will be in the lineup for the Tigers game tonight, although he may not have the final say in it.
"I'm going to go back and talk to the trainer, and say that I feel great," Inge said. "And tell him I need to get back (to Detroit); I don't really see any need to stay (in West Michigan)."
Inge had a decent outing yesterday, going 2 for 5 with two doubles off the center field wall, two strikeouts and a fly out.
Although many people may find it rather stunning that anyone can be ready to play baseball again at that high of a level after breaking their hand two weeks ago, Inge said that this broken bone was different than others he has had in the past.
"To be honest, I don't like to sit on the DL for very long. A broken bone is a broken bone, but this whole time, for some reason, it hasn't felt as bad as some of the other broken bones I've had in the past," Inge said. "So, that being said, I felt like I could come back a little quicker with this injury, but you have to wait for the doctor to tell you that there's no higher percentage of breaking it than any random person. That was my main concern, as long as I can't break it any further. It's not worth it to come back a week earlier, if I might break it again, and then be out for the rest of the year."
This isn't Inge's first bout with injuries later in the season. Just last year, the star third baseman had to deal with knee problems during the second half, an injury he may have come back too early from, causing him to play poorly in the second half of the season. Tigers manager Jim Leyland has referenced this on several occasions since this year's injury occured, which is perhaps the only reason why we may see Inge play another game with the Whitecaps before returning to the big leagues.
Inge, who came on the scene as an upper level prospect when he debuted with the 'Caps as a catcher in 1999, still has a certain place in his heart for the ball club that helped him get to where he is today.
"I love it here. I really do," Inge said in reference to West Michigan. "This is kind of the starting point for me. This was the first full season that I had in the minor leagues. This place, they couldn't send you to a better ball park. The people here are very loyal. As loyal as I've ever seen in my life. I always have a good time coming back here. It's always good to come back here and see the guys and how hard they work, and how hard they play. It's refreshing."
Unfortunately for Inge, as well as anyone who's a fan of the Tigers, the past couple of weeks have been less than productive, as the club continues to plummet closer and closer to being out of contention in the American League Central. According to Inge, this is why he wants to get back to Motown.
"It's a crucial time right now, playing the Chicago White Sox," Inge said. "If you can win a bunch with (the Tigers), you can make up a lot of ground. There's a lot of season left to go, and it isn't over by any means. We have a great team, one of the best teams that I've been with since I've been with the Tigers. I feel like I need to get back as fast as I can so I can help out a little bit."
"I feel like I can go back up there and help, and that was the only way I was going to go back up there," Inge continued. "But it's left up to the general manager and the skipper."
The Tigers have done their best to fill the gap left by Inge by acquiring IF Jhonny Peralta from the Indians last week, a move that Inge is very pleased with.
"(Peralta) is a great addition," Inge said. "They're going to move him over to shortstop, and having another quality bat in the lineup, that's going to help out a lot."
Many fans have been concerned about the direction the team is going in the second half, and some of the parallels it shares with the conclusion of last year's season, in which the Tigers blew a big division lead in the final weeks and ended up losing to the Minnesota Twins in a tie break game for the division crown. Inge, however, says that the team wants to create a different destiny this year.
"Every one of us remembers that feeling from last year, and it wasn't fun," Inge said. "It'd be good to play the spoiler role in this one."
"We're not out of it by any means," Inge continued. "We're going to use it as motivation."