They've had their struggles off and on this season, but losing Inge for four to six weeks is another challenge altogether, as much for Inge's presence on the team as his presence at third base. He played through at least half of last season with tears in both his knees, but he can't play through this. The Tigers can have someone fill in, but for a team that has already overcome quite a bit, some three season-ending injuries in the bullpen to a rotation in flux, it's another setback.
"Someone said on the bench: If you don't have casualties, it means you're not playing hard," Inge said. "Obviously, we're playing hard. I think this is a stretch where it could take you in two different directions, and I know we're not going to go in the negative direction. This is one where I think we're all going to mesh and come a little closer together as a group and we're going to start playing hard."
Inge was batting in the third inning with two men on base and two outs when Rangers right-hander Scott Feldman's 1-1 fastball rode up and in on him. Inge buckled over for a few seconds in obvious pain, but made his way to first base as head athletic trainer Kevin Rand followed him.
Inge was pretty well set on staying in the game at that point, but he was already sensing from past experience he had more than a bruise. He fractured the index finger on his right hand in 2004 and missed about three weeks.
"When it first happened, it was kind of numb all the way down to first base," Inge said of his latest fracture. "I knew, just because I broke [the other] finger pretty much a similar way, I kind of knew it was that type of feeling. I was hoping in the back of my mind it was just like a bruise or something, but I knew it squared me up pretty good, just by the way it went numb.
"Kevin went out there and let me squeeze his hand. I was OK when I squeezed because it was still kind of numb at that point. And then I was running the bases and stuff, I kept playing with it, because I want to make sure I can go. I started to mess around with it and pain started to settle in a little bit, so at that point, it started worrying me a little bit. Then I went out to the field and I asked [Miguel Cabrera] to throw me a couple balls. And when I put my glove on at first and tried to squeeze my glove, I could tell at that point."
Inge stayed in the field for the fourth inning and actually fielded a ground ball, throwing out Elvis Andrus at first base. But it just reinforced that he was done.
"The ball hit my glove and I was like, 'OK, it's broken,'" Inge said.
Inge still tried to pick up a bat in the dugout in the middle of the inning, but could barely grip, let alone swing. Don Kelly, who started at third Sunday at Cleveland to give Inge a day off, replaced him in the fifth inning and handled third base the rest of the night while Inge went for X-rays.
Those tests revealed a non-displaced fracture of the fifth metacarpal -- essentially a broken bone below the base of Inge's left pinky finger. He won't need surgery to recover, but he's going to need time.
"Just gotta wait," Inge said. "I don't think it'll be that long."
It's long enough that the Tigers have some decisions to make. It's a potentially big blow to a ballclub trying to stay close in the three-way race atop the American League Central. Inge tripled and scored in the second inning to raise his average to .263 with six home runs and 40 RBIs. His defense, meanwhile, has been a big part of the Tigers' infield since he regained his starting job at third near the end of 2008.
"It's tough. There's not too many players that can play third base like Brandon," Johnny Damon said. "We knew his bat was going to come around soon. It's just a tough break."
The Tigers had no decisions to announce Monday night on how to fill in for Inge. They have no obvious replacement, but several different ways to adjust. Kelly has started seven games at third this year among the many positions he has played, and has had his stints as a semi-regular player. Ryan Raburn, too, has experience at third among his many spots. Kelly bats left-handed, while Raburn is a right-handed hitter.
Jeff Larish has had most of the time at third base at Triple-A Toledo, and is batting .298 with 12 doubles, 10 home runs and 36 RBIs since June 1, but the Tigers did not consider Larish an everyday third baseman during his stints in Detroit. Scott Sizemore, the Tigers' Opening Day second baseman, has hit well since coming back from injuries and could feasibly return to the big leagues if the Tigers move Carlos Guillen to third, where he played for part of the 2008 season.
"I'm sure Dave [Dombrowski] has had some thoughts over the course of the game," manager Jim Leyland said. "I really can't do that during the game. I'll wait and see what happens."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.