Leyland sees potential in Inge's bat

Leyland sees potential in Inge's bat

ARLINGTON -- Brandon Inge battled questions about his hitting in his first stint as an everyday catcher years ago. His manager, in his second stint, sees potential for his hitting to take the next step.

The key for Inge, Jim Leyland said, is going to be in the approach that he takes at the plate. In that aspect, he sees progress behind the numbers. Inge, meanwhile, is drawing his progress in part by watching his old games.

Inge went 1-for-4 with a triple and a walk in Sunday's loss to the Orioles, but Leyland pointed to his focus on staying on the ball -- not just with the triple to the gap in right-center field in the eighth inning, but with a line drive out earlier in the game. A day later, Inge reached base safely all four times he stepped to the plate, singling twice to left to go with a walk and a hit-by-pitch in the win over the Rangers.

If he can build on that approach, Leyland sees the chance to vastly improve his offensive numbers, from batting average to doubles to overall production.

"Does he have the potential to do much better? Absolutely," Leyland said Monday afternoon. "I think Brandon Inge has the potential to raise his average 50 points. I think Brandon Inge could be somewhere between .245 and .265, .270 with some power numbers, and I think that's pretty good. Just by doing that, that would make him a heckuva player."

With Monday's performance, Inge is batting .219 on the season with 10 home runs and 39 RBIs. Since the Ivan Rodriguez trade on July 30, he's batting .197 (12-for-61) with nine walks and 14 strikeouts in 18 games -- 15 of them behind the plate. Six of his hits have gone for extra bases, including two home runs to go with eight RBIs.

It's no secret that Inge has focused his offense on power. As Leyland put it, "I think Inge thinks homer all the time."

Leyland was cautious not to express it as a criticism.

"I don't mean that wrong," Leyland said. "He likes to turn on balls. He looks for pitches. He likes to hit the ball out of the ballpark. If he hit 25 home runs and hit .260, .270, he'd be a star. But if you're trying to hit home runs hitting .210, that doesn't work, for the most part."

He did that in 2006, when his .253 average came with 27 home runs and 83 RBIs. His average fell to .236 last season with 14 homers and 71 RBIs, and the trades for Edgar Renteria and Miguel Cabrera ended up leaving him with a utility role.

Inge has never been big about watching his old games, but last week, he started looking back at video of his swing from 2006, trying to pinpoint what happened and how he can get back to that.

"I watched them all," Inge said. "I put them on my computer and I watch them a lot now. And I started to realize that my swing is completely different than it was in 2006, and it was because the way things have gone this year.

"I just watched that, and I started staying on the ball. I realized that in '06, I had home runs to right field, hitting the ball hard."

If he can carry that along, Leyland believes Inge's offense could be strong for his position.

"Brandon's a good enough athlete that he should be able to hit .260, .270 with some homers and production," Leyland said. "That would be awful good for a catcher. I'm actually giving him credit. I'm kind of excited a little bit about the way he's at least making an effort. I think sometimes he just goes up there and gets hung up in the at-bat and bails and wails, to be honest with you. But he's working at it, and we need him to work at it, because he needs to be a productive player for us next year.

"I'm not talking about huge numbers, but if he could knock in 75-80 runs, that would be pretty good."

That kind of production is weighing on Inge's mind as well. No one will say anything about his offense, he figures, if he can hit .280 with 27 homers and 80 RBIs.

When he was a reserve off the bench, he was swinging for the fences. Now, he's swinging for steady play.

"Common sense says that when you're a starting guy," Inge said, "you have to have some consistency."

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.