If he could aggravate his oblique that way, it was probably just a matter of time before he did it in the field. And given the way two weeks of rest helped Gary Sheffield with his oblique muscle, getting Inge back at full strength rather than watching him struggle through pain for several weeks could be a blessing later in the season. Still, that's little consolation right now for the Tigers, who had Inge alternating starts at catcher to keep Ivan Rodriguez fresh while also using Inge as a defensive replacement at third.
"I'll have to get away from [that plan] some," manager Jim Leyland said, "probably more than I would like to. That's the way it is."
The move is retroactive to Monday, the day after Inge entered Sunday's series finale at San Diego as a defensive replacement at third. He started at catcher a day earlier.
The injury, however, dates back to the beginning of June. He felt some discomfort in his oblique on May 31 at Seattle, pulled it on a checked swing the next day and has been battling pain and soreness ever since. Leyland held him out for the entire series at San Francisco before getting him back behind the plate on Saturday.
The days off seemed to make a difference.
"Then I started coming back and taking bigger swings and harder swings," Inge said, "and then I saw that the more I swung, the slower the progress was."
The tipping point came on Monday night while he was in bed at home with his wife and son. He tried to shift the pillow for his three-year-old son, Tyler, to support his head, but when he stretched to do that, he jumped out of bed in pain.
"You take swings at a baseball and it's not as bad," Inge said. "You do that, and you can't push a pillow down. It was the stupidest, freakiest thing. I wish I could come up with something different."
Replacing the versatile Inge will be a challenge involving more than one player. At the basic level, the Tigers needed a backup catcher with Inge out, so they purchased the contract of Dane Sardinha from Triple-A Toledo to take Inge's spot on the 25-man roster. Sardinha entered Wednesday batting .206 in 48 games for the Mud Hens with eight doubles, six home runs and 16 RBIs.
Leyland said on Wednesday that he'll probably start Sardinha at catcher on Thursday afternoon. He'll have to figure out how much to play him from there. It's not as easy as it would seem, because Rodriguez seemed to be hitting better since resting every other day or so. That said, he played the entire three-game series last week at San Francisco and ended up going 5-for-13 with a triple, stolen base and three runs scored.
"I'm not going to beat Pudge into the ground, no matter what," Leyland said.
Nor will he start third-string catcher Ryan Raburn, who worked behind the plate in Spring Training but who will only play there in a regular-season game in an emergency situation.
In terms of Inge's utility role, though, Raburn still will probably pick up increased playing time as the backup at third and second base as well as in the outfield.
Both Inge and Leyland believe that he can be back within the minimum two weeks. As difficult as it is for Inge to sit, the only way to heal the injury is through rest.
"It was good that I played through it, tried to do it," Inge said. "I want to have a sense that at least I gave it a shot. I don't have a reputation for not being a guy that plays hurt. But playing through it at the beginning, I think, actually prolonged it."