Originally posted on Fox Sports Detroit  |  Last updated 4/25/12
DETROIT -- In years past, the most hated athlete in Detroit tended to be one of two people: the Lions' quarterback or the Red Wings' goalie. These days, though, with those jobs comfortably held down by Matt Stafford and Jimmy Howard, fans have needed a new target for their wrath. Oddly, they've chosen the backup second baseman for the Tigers -- a position that generally gets as much notice as the 12th man on the Pistons or the Lions' long snapper. Granted, the player in question is Brandon Inge, who's been a polarizing figure for much of his decade in Detroit. He's also playing poorly -- his batting average is .100, and he's struggled defensively at second base -- but that doesn't change his lack of importance. Of the 25 players on the Tigers' roster, Inge is either No. 24 or 25, depending on your opinion of Thad Weber. Inge didn't even play on Wednesday -- exactly what most people want -- and Detroit was still routed 9-1 by lowly Seattle. So, as a helpful guide, here's a list of 20 things that are bigger concerns for the Tigers than Inge's performance: 1) Justin Verlander's right arm. There's nothing wrong with it, and any hopes of a World Series depend on that staying the case. The only limb in Detroit with as much value is Stafford's right arm. 2) Doug Fister's ribcage. Fister was a key to last year's strong finish, but he didn't make it out of his first start this season. His recovery from a strained side muscle has been slower than expected, but the Tigers are hoping for good news on Thursday when Fister is scheduled to throw a bullpen session. 3) Fister's replacement. Adam Wilk was sent to Toledo Wednesday after getting bombed by the Mariners, and Jim Leyland wasn't willing to announce who will start Monday against the Royals. Even if Fister feels good on Thursday, he'll probably need a rehab start, which means the choice may come down to Weber and fellow long reliever Duane Below. 4) Drew Smyly's stuff. Smyly won the fifth-starter job out of spring training, and has a rather impressive 1.13 ERA through three starts. However, since no one thinks he's the next Bob Gibson, the Tigers are hoping Smyly can hold things together once teams get a second look at him. 5) Max Scherzer's command. Scherzer, who constantly fiddles with his complicated delivery, hasn't gotten into anything close to a groove this season. He's got "unbelievable stuff," according to Tigers catcher Alex Avila, but Scherzer needs to be able to get it over the plate. 6) Jacob Turner's shoulder problems. This is more of a long-term issue -- he's one of the best pitching prospects in baseball -- but a healthy Turner could also fill any gaps left by Fister, Scherzer or Smyly. Turner threw four hitless innings for Lakeland last week in his 2012 debut, but the Tigers are going to be very careful with him. Don't expect him in Detroit until later this summer. 7) Jose Valverde's confidence. The Big Potato's save streak ended on Opening Day, but he's 4-for-4 since then and has a 1.80 ERA in his last five appearances. Valverde isn't the type of player to get rattled by one blown save or, for that matter, anything short of a natural disaster. 8) Long relief. This was Below's job coming out of spring training, but so many starters have gotten knocked out early that it's become a group effort. The Tigers were forced to use Weber in extra innings in his major-league debut -- he took the loss -- and needed several pitchers Wednesday when Wilk got knocked out. Brayan Villarreal is back up from Toledo, replacing Wilk, but the next option might be unknowns like Chris Bootcheck or Luke Putkonen. 9) Al Alburquerque's elbow. Alburquerque came out of nowhere last season with one of baseball's nastiest sliders. He couldn't always control it, but no one was able to hit it. He had offseason surgery on a stress fracture in his elbow, and isn't expected back until the All-Star break. But Alburquerque could be a huge addition to the bullpen for the stretch run. 10) Austin Jackson's strikeouts. Only one player in major-league history, Pete Incaviglia, struck out more times than Jackson did in his first two seasons. This was supposed to be the year he turned that around, but he has as many whiffs as hits. After a promising start, Jackson's hitting just .128 in his last 10 games. 11) Brennan Boesch's bat. Boesch has gotten off to quick starts in the past, but this year has been a disaster. Even after homering on Wednesday, he's still hitting just .213 and has walked only once. 12) Brennan Boesch's arm. He certainly throws hard enough for right field, but his accuracy has been off. Wednesday, Boesch bounced one throw over Avila's head and sent the catcher sliding up the third-base line to block another one. 13) Miguel Cabrera's glove. The move back to third base has been a mixed bag thus far. It hasn't been as bad as people feared, especially after he got hit in the face during spring training, but Cabrera's still well below average in the field. 14) Prince Fielder's power. When Cabrera and Fielder both homered twice in the second game of the season, fans were talking about 100 homers and 250 RBIs. Fielder is hitting .323 but hasn't homered since that game against Boston and has only hit two doubles. 15) Second base. This isn't just an Inge problem. Even if Inge magically vanishes from the organization in the morning, the Tigers still have to find a second baseman from the trio of Ryan Raburn, Ramon Santiago and Danny Worth. Santiago is hitting .200, Raburn is batting .091 and Worth has a career average of .257 with no power and few walks. 16) Alex Avila's knees. Avila completely ran out of gas in the playoffs last year, hitting .073 after a season of too much work and too many foul tips. A winter's rest was supposed to do him a world of good, but he still looks slow on the bases and uncomfortable at the plate. He now has a reliable backup in Gerald Laird, and Avila's throwing out baserunners at will. But he needs 40 or 50 points on his batting average to contend for another All-Star spot. 17) Andy Dirks' hamstring. Dirks was off to a .304 start when he pulled a hamstring in Kansas City, and he hasn't gotten back into the lineup. Leyland thinks Dirks will be able to play Thursday, giving Jackson a day off and possibly putting a spark into the top of the batting order. 18) Dixon Machado's bat. Machado, the shortstop for Single-A Lakeland, has gotten a lot of hype for his world-class defensive skills. The problem? He's one of the worst hitters in recent memory. In 145 A-ball games, he's hitting .206 with four doubles, three triples and zero homers. He's only 20, but at this point, Machado doesn't have the offensive skills to make it to Toledo any time soon, much less the big leagues. 19) Brad Eldred's history. The 31-year-old is laying waste to the International League, hitting .388 with 13 homers and 35 RBIs in just 20 games. Even though he's a first baseman, he still would seem like an obvious candidate to DH against left-handed pitchers and give Fielder an occasional day off. The problem is that Eldred has failed in three major-league tries with the Pirates and Rockies, hitting .204 with 103 strikeouts in 260 at-bats. 20) Team confidence. The Tigers have been awful on this homestand, losing five of six. That wasn't too much of a worry when they were playing the two-time AL-champion Rangers, but Tigers have now had back-to-back bad losses to Seattle. The offense has been struggling for two weeks now, and the pitchers have allowed seven or more runs four times in six games. "Right now, people are beating up on us and enjoying it," Leyland said after Wednesday's loss. "I'm sure we'll get tired of that at some point." Until then, Leyland has a lot of things to worry about. Inge isn't one of them.
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