LAKELAND, Fla. -- After all the speculation this spring about Brandon Inge's future in Detroit, the longest-tenured Tiger will open the season on the disabled list. The Tigers placed Inge on the 15-day DL with a left groin strain on Tuesday.
The move, coupled with the fact that Drew Smyly will start the season at Triple-A Toledo for a spot start, essentially completes the Tigers' 25-man Opening Day roster. Infielder Danny Worth and outfielders Andy Dirks and Clete Thomas all make the team, though Detroit will have to make another roster move to make room for Smyly in time for his scheduled Major League debut on April 12.
The one formality left is for the Tigers to place reliever Al Alburquerque on the disabled list. Alburquerque is recovering from offseason elbow surgery, and though he should be cleared to begin a throwing program in the coming days, he isn't expected to be ready to pitch until the All-Star break.
As for Inge, the move is retroactive to Friday. He'll be eligible to be activated on April 14 for the second game of their first road series against the White Sox. Inge fully expects to be ready by that point, and the Tigers plan to activate and use him as part of a three-man mix at second base.
Manager Jim Leyland said before Tuesday's game against the Blue Jays that once Inge is ready, he'll be activated from the DL and play most days at second base against left-handed starting pitchers.
"I think he can be very effective against left-handed pitching," Leyland said.
Ryan Raburn, who will garner most of the playing time at second base against right-handed pitchers, will likely play another position against lefties, either designated hitter or left field, in order to get in Inge or Ramon Santiago for an extra right-handed bat.
For his part, Inge expected to be ready for Opening Day in two days, but he couldn't guarantee it. So the two sides came to an agreement to make the move.
"I don't have a doubt that in two days, this [strain] is going to be out of here," Inge said. "But they wanted to see me play in [Tuesday's] game."
Inge understood why. To make that choice, he said, "They would have to go by chance [that he would ready], and I understand where they're coming from. I could probably be ready, and that's the key word: Probably."
Said Leyland: "We wanted to make sure we did everything to give everybody the proper respect, but at the same time, we made the right decision. It's not going to be a matter of much time, if the [injury] responds. If he's healthy, Inge will be activated not too long from now."
Thus ends, for now, what had been a bubbling topic of speculation and prognostication surrounding Inge's status.
Inge came to camp six weeks ago and was given the chance to compete for the starting job at second base, trying to fit his way into the mix of Raburn and Santiago while Miguel Cabrera took over at third.
Defensively, Inge handled the move better than the Tigers could've expected, but the long-running question of whether Inge could hit lingered. He struggled at the plate with a .180 batting average (9-for-50), three doubles, a home run and two RBIs.
Asked Tuesday how he would evaluate his spring, Inge sounded some signs for encouragement.
"A lot of good things," he said. "I can't aim it after I hit it. I hit it hard. I played second well. That's what they wanted to see. I'm fine with it. Nothing I can do about anything else. All decisions are out of my hands."
Tigers officials echoed the belief that Inge made better contact than the stats would suggest. The strikeout rate was down, albeit in a very small sample size compared with regular-season stats from the previous few years.
The combination of Inge's offensive struggles and encouraging springs from Raburn as well as utility infielder Worth led to speculation about Inge's status for the past two weeks. He's in the last year of his contract, with a $5.5 million salary and a $500,000 buyout of his option year for 2013, but the Tigers had shown a willingness to absorb that when they designated him for assignment last July before he agreed to take a stint at Triple-A Toledo.
Any trade speculation died quickly when the Phillies decided to go in another direction to fill their second-base void in the wake of All-Star Chase Utley's injury.
In the end, however, Leyland sees a role for Inge on this club. The question surrounding Inge over the final stages of camp was more how he would be used rather than whether he would make the team.
"I don't really think Danny Worth was in competition with Brandon Inge," Leyland said.
Worth will serve as a utility infielder to open the season, but he will not fill Inge's role as a platoon second baseman. Santiago will start at second on Opening Day against Red Sox left-hander Jon Lester.
Inge said he has handled the situation "same as normal. Just playing the game. I'm just doing what I always do. But it's part of it. I'm just going to make the most of whatever [role I have]."