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Inge glad to return to third in 2009

Inge glad to return to third for Tigers

DETROIT -- Brandon Inge ended his 2008 season back in the same position where he closed out his '07 season. It's the journey in between that has made it such a long year for him.

"This is the worst season I've ever been a part of, personally, in my entire life," Inge said.

From an individual standpoint, it was the frustration of not being able to play regularly for about half the season. Inge's second half, meanwhile, has seen him start regularly at catcher, then third base, and even get a rare start in center field.

With the Tigers' decision to move him back to third base full-time for next year, however, Inge has some closure, some direction that he lacked for much of the year.

"It's like a little light at the end of a season that was not very good for me," Inge said, "wondering what was going to happen, if I was even going to be here, if I was going to be traded. Now, knowing that the position that I love more than any is going to be mine next year, that makes me very happy."

Up until recently, Inge's position seemed to be catcher. He was the heir apparent to Ivan Rodriguez upon Pudge's trade to the Yankees in July, and the Tigers played him there every day in an effort to evaluate him and prepare him for next year.

It was a shift back to Inge's original position in the pros, but it was also a strenuous change -- more so than he might've anticipated -- and one that he's still feeling after catching regularly for more than a month and a half.

"It's funny," Inge said. "I played half the season, maybe, and I'm more tired right now than I've probably ever been. I'm trying to beat out ground balls these days, and it feels like I'm taking eight seconds [to run] down to first base."

That's the impact of catching. He won't have that wear and tear at third base, where it'll be more a test of athleticism and reactions than endurance for him.

By learning of the change now rather than in the offseason, Inge can gear his training plan around playing at third again. He can also devote more attention to his offense, which the Tigers suspect suffered with all the uncertainty -- from irregular playing time to the demands of not only catching, but learning to catch again.

Inge entered Sunday batting .203 with 11 home runs and 50 RBIs. The run production was encouraging, manager Jim Leyland said, but the hitting in general will obviously be a point of emphasis.

"It helps me to prepare," Inge said. "I can work on third base instead of catching. I mean, no matter what, I was going to [work on] my offense anyways. I'm just looking forward to it. It's a light at the end of the tunnel, and I'm excited to be able to just even have a direction. I haven't had a direction."

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

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