DETROIT -- The longest-tenured Tiger is about to become the newest Mud Hen. It wasn't something Brandon Inge wanted to do, but in the end, it was his choice.
When Wilson Betemit officially joins the Tigers on Thursday in Minnesota, the team will designate Inge's contract for assignment, team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski announced Wednesday night. Assuming he clears waivers in a few days, which is highly likely given his two-year contract, Inge said he'll accept an assignment to Triple-A Toledo.
The decision follows a trade that came together quickly on Wednesday, and a decision process from Inge that took most of the day -- along with a message from team owner Mike Ilitch -- to figure out.
"There's plenty of guys that could've made the decision to simply not accept the assignment and maybe get picked up by another team," Inge said. "But I live here. My kids go to school around here. I've made this home, and I still feel -- no matter what happens, and no matter whatever will happen -- that this is going to be home for me. I've spent so many years here and I still plan on spending a lot more here."
The Tigers decided to pick up more offense at third after Inge went 0-for-4 on Tuesday to drop his season average to .177. It's his lowest mark this late in the season since 2003, when he batted .150 through late June before being optioned to Toledo.
That six-week stint was the last time he was in the Minor Leagues for something other than a rehab assignment. The only current Tiger who was on the team at that point is Ramon Santiago.
Inge came back from the Mud Hens in early August that year, batted .258 the rest of the way and has been a fixture in Detroit since, even making his home in Michigan year-round.
He's hoping to find the same formula in Toledo this time.
Part of Inge's struggles came from an early season bout with mononucleosis, which landed him on the disabled list for much of June. Since his return June 24, he's batting .074 (4-for-54) with one extra-base hit -- a triple -- five RBIs, and 16 strikeouts. He has had times when he felt he has swung the bat well with nothing to show for it, and other times when he has felt terrible at the plate.
"It's a tough situation," Dombrowski said earlier Wednesday in announcing the Betemit trade. "Brandon has done a lot for the organization. We would not have signed him this winter if we didn't think he was going to come out and he was going to do very well for us, or do solidly. We never projected him to be a .300 hitter, but thought he'd come out and be a guy that could hit .230 or .240 with some home runs and play real good defense and maybe drive in runs. It hasn't happened this year and I think we're at the point where playing him every day, we just don't see it happening right now."
Inge took responsibility for that.
"Everyone goes through rough patches, and I need to go down and work on some things," Inge said. "I'm not holding anyone [else] responsible. It's me. I'm in the batter's box. I play 100 percent every day. It just wasn't working out right now."
Both the Tigers and Inge insist there's nothing physically wrong with him, a fact they repeated Wednesday. Otherwise, a trip to the disabled list could have been a consideration. However, Inge admitted his energy level remains down since the bout with mono.
"Yeah, it's definitely been off this whole year," Inge said before batting practice Wednesday. "But I don't want that as an excuse."
As it turns out, Inge was already weighing his decision at that point, with the Tigers on the verge of completing their trade for Betemit. And Tigers ownership was already weighing his decision as well.
"Mr. Ilitch reached out [through the front office] and expressed how he did not want to release me, he did not want me to go anywhere," Inge said. "And I can't tell you [how much] that right there meant to me. Mr. Ilitch has given me so much, given me so many opportunities to be a player here. And if you're going to give me an opportunity to play, I'm going to play as hard as I can for you. And I was really excited that he actually reached out to me and didn't want me to go anywhere."
Ilitch, of course, approved the contract extension that kept Inge a Tiger last fall and guarantees his $5.5 million salary next year, whether he's a Tiger or with another club. If he's a Tiger, there could be an opportunity for him to reclaim his job at third base if he's right.
While Betemit comes in with the potential to earn a role, much like Jhonny Peralta last summer, Betemit is also a free agent at season's end. The Tigers have Don Kelly as an option, but view him as best fit for a super-utility role. The closest third-base prospect to the big leagues is 20-year-old Double-A All-Star Francisco Martinez, and team officials view him as still needing time to improve his defense, among other factors.
Regardless, Inge will be back once rosters expand in September. He expects to be in a better situation to help by then.
"This is my team," Inge said. "I've been here a long time. I'm not playing well right now, and I take responsibility for that. Guys have been picking me up, and there comes a point when I need to fix it, and that's fine. And I'm willing to do it. It was rough, a harsh reality, but it's necessary."