Pudge, Inge to split time at catcher
Leyland concerned Rodriguez could wear down without rest
DETROIT -- Brandon Inge became a former Tigers catcher four years ago when the club signed free agent Ivan Rodriguez. Now, they're basically a catching platoon. Whether Inge becomes the Tigers' catcher of the future remains to be seen, but it leaves Rodriguez wondering about his future.
After starting behind the plate on Saturday, Inge was back at catcher on Monday, with Rodriguez out of the starting lineup. That's how manager Jim Leyland plans to use them for the time being, alternating them at catcher from game to game.
"I'm going to catch these guys every other game for a while," Leyland said Monday.
The reasons behind the move, Leyland said, were twofold. For one, he wants to give Rodriguez more rest to see how his 36-year-old body responds. He has started 51 of Detroit's first 63 games through Monday, tying him for seventh among Major League catchers, and while his body has been able to stand up to the workload, Leyland is wary of the wear and tear it has on him.
"You can tell when a guy catches as much as he does, particularly a guy who's caught as many games as he has, that's not easy to do," Leyland said. "He's in as good shape as any player we've got. I don't care how good shape he's in. You catch that many games, [some] 12 innings, [some] a day game after a night game, you get run down. I don't care who you are. I don't care how good shape you're in. That goes for anybody."
It's not just about how his body responds, but his bat. He's 4-for-35 since the start of the Tigers' last road trip, and all four hits have been singles. That has brought down his average to .245 this season, with one home run and 21 RBIs.
"I think he's getting tired," Leyland said. "He won't ever admit he's tired because he's a proud player, but I think that's one of the reasons his average has fallen off."
Rodriguez, indeed, counters that notion. When asked if he feels any more wear and tear compared to years past, he asked his own questions.
"Do you see any changes in my energy when I play the game? Do I show any change in intensity? No," Rodriguez said. "Is [the question] because I'm not hitting? That's baseball. I'm swinging the bat. I've been hitting the ball hard, putting the ball in play. Right now, I'm going through a tough time, but it happens to everybody else. Physically, I'm good. Mentally, I'm good."
The other side of the story, of course, is Inge. The Tigers moved him back behind the plate this spring once it became clear they wouldn't be able to trade him and backup Vance Wilson wouldn't be ready for the season. After sounding lukewarm at first about moving back to catcher, Inge has embraced his old position again -- partly out of the chance at playing time, partly for the control a catcher can have on a game.
Monday was Inge's 12th start behind the plate, with nine of them coming since May 1. He would've caught another game on the Tigers' West Coast trip until a pulled left oblique muscle kept him out of the lineup last week at Oakland.
"Inge needs to catch," Leyland said. "He needs to catch some. We've got to find out if he can do it. He hadn't done it for a long time."
At this point, Leyland believes that he can.
"He looks pretty good to me," he said. "I think it's a matter of getting back in there and getting settled in on a consistent basis. I don't know if every other day is. I think it's good enough for right now."
Left unsaid for now is what it means for the Tigers if he can do it. Asked if that meant anything for next year, Leyland said: "We're putting the cart before the horse. We're getting way carried away. I'm going to catch him every other day to try to keep him fresh and try to keep Pudge fresh."
Rodriguez is a free agent at season's end. He has avoided discussing the future, saying during Spring Training that it's out of his control. Asked what this makes him think about it, he said: "I don't know. The way this looks right now, I don't know.
"This is a great organization, a great group of guys, beautiful organization, beautiful fans to play for. It's been a good five years, but I don't know what's going to happen. Sometimes you've got to be ready for everything, and right now I have to be ready for everything, because I don't know what's going to happen."
Leyland talked to Rodriguez about the move on Sunday, he said, and he understandably wouldn't be happy about it. Leyland understands that, because Rodriguez is a proud player.
"I'm sure it doesn't make Pudge happy, because Pudge is a gamer," Leyland said. "He wants to play every day. I mean, that's why you love Pudge. I'm saying you have to do what you think is best. Sometimes, maybe less is best."
It was a move that Rodriguez said surprised him. He did not say it disappointed him, only that he believes he can still play every day.
"I'm ready to play every day, but I respect him," Rodriguez said of Leyland. "I'm a player who prepares myself physically and mentally to play every day. And I'm ready to play every day.
"I still think I can do it. I don't know that they think I can do it. I can do it. I believe in myself. I believe that I can do the job."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.