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Pirates' Inge a man of many hats

| Sunday, Feb. 17, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Christopher Horner
Pirates infielder Brandon Inge talks with manager Clint Hurdle at Pirate City Saturday Feb. 16, 2013 in Bradenton, Fla. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Christopher Horner
Video promo for Pirates infielder Brandon Inge 2/16/13. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Christopher Horner
Pirates third baseman Brandon Inge works out with Pedro Alvarez at Pirate City on Saturday, Feb. 16, 2013, in Bradenton, Fla. (Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review)
Christopher Horner
Pirates third baseman Brandon Inge talks with Pedro Alvarez between drills at Pirate City on Saturday, Feb. 16, 2013, in Bradenton, Fla. (Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review)
Christopher Horner
Pirates utilityman Brandon Inge still is in the running for a spot on the major league roster. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Utilityman Brandon Inge will provide the Pirates with flexibility.
Christopher Horner
Pirates infielder Brandon Inge meets team president Frank Coonelly before batting practice at Pirate City on Saturday, Feb. 16, 2013, in Bradenton, Fla. (Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review)

BRADENTON, Fla. — After 12 years of battling for starting jobs in the major leagues, Brandon Inge is ready to accept a utility role with the Pirates.

Inge, 35, reported to spring training camp Saturday after signing a one-year minor league contract. He can trigger an opt-out clause if he's not on the 25-man active roster by the end of March.

After a long career with the Detroit Tigers, Inge played most of last season with the Oakland A's before having season-ending shoulder surgery in September. Inge said Saturday he's eager for a fresh start with the Pirates.

“Just from meeting the guys in the clubhouse for two minutes, I know this is going to be an easy fit for me,” he said.

Manager Clint Hurdle indicated Inge could be a backup at several spots. Inge, who can play second or third base and all three outfield spots, said he doesn't mind being a super utility player.

“There are a lot of labels in baseball,” Inge said. “I really have never cared about that. There's been kind of a misunderstanding of me. I don't care if I'm starting at a ton of different positions. I love playing baseball. If I start at a different position every day, I don't care. I just want to play. It's fun to switch your glove every day.”

Inge said his right shoulder has responded well during rehab, but he's not yet ready to go full speed in drills. He also said he doesn't expect to do any catching, a job he hasn't filled since 2008.

“I hope not,” Inge said with a grin. “(Hurdle) didn't say anything to me, so I didn't bring it up.”

In 2003, Inge was replaced as the starting catcher when the Tigers signed Ivan Rodriguez. In January 2008, after the Tigers acquired third baseman Miguel Cabrera, Inge told USA Today he was “bitter, mad and frustrated” about the possibility of getting less playing time. He asked to be traded and wound up hitting .205 in 113 games that season.

Inge rebounded in 2009 and was named to the American League All-Star team. He played in a league-leading 161 games, hit .230 and slugged a career-best 27 home runs.

When the Tigers signed Prince Fielder before last season, Inge's days as an everyday player were over. He was unconditionally released April 29, two weeks after coming off the disabled list, then signed with the Oakland A's the next day.

“I don't hold grudges,” Inge said Saturday. “I understand the business side of things.”

Inge said he rooted for the Tigers in the World Series, which the San Francisco Giants won in a four-game sweep.

Because he was rehabbing from shoulder surgery, Inge missed a chance to play for the A's against the Tigers in the AL Division Series. Detroit won in five games. Later, Inge kidded some of his former teammates.

“I told half that team, ‘You're lucky my shoulder was hurt. If I was playing, you wouldn't have gotten any further,' ” Inge said.

Notes: Pitcher Stolmy Pimentel resolved his visa issues in the Dominican Republic and reported to camp Saturday. That means all 61 players are at Pirate City. ... The biggest crowd surge of Saturday's workout was when top prospects Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon pitched to batters on Field 3. James McDonald and Jason Grilli were among the group throwing live batting practice (two innings, 35 pitches maximum).

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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