Ryan Raburn left little margin of error for Brandon Inge this spring in his quest to not only make the Detroit Tiger's 25-man roster but to do so as the starting everyday second baseman.
Two months ago when the Tigers signed Prince Fielder, manager Jim Leyland didn't hesitate when reciting what he saw as his everyday lineup for the 2012 season—Raburn batting ninth and playing second base.
Six weeks ago, Brandon Inge plead his case to play second base to Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski when that became his only viable option for playing time. In the wake of Miguel Cabrera's shift to third, there was little hope he was going to find playing time anywhere else.
With little left in the tank, can anyone really blame a last-ditch effort to resurrect his career?
Now, none of that really matters. Raburn made certain of that in the 2012 Grapefruit League season.
He will be the starting second baseman for the Tigers, and as long as he keeps plugging along like he has this spring, he'll get the lion's share of that duty for all 162 games this season.
For the first time in his career, Raburn was able to enter spring's preparation season more relaxed knowing that he certainly had a roster spot after Leyland's mid-winter declaration.
Perhaps not feeling chased by a shadow and more that it was his spot to lose has allowed Raburn to relax and enjoy spring a bit more this year than in seasons past. Not that he's had a bad spring for the Tigers anyway. His preseason play has never really been the issue, it's what happens when he returns to chilly Detroit.
Warm March magic is nothing new to Raburn—he's pounded the ball the past three years in sunny Florida. Smashing four homers over 20 games last spring and three more in 19 games in 2010.
This has been followed by April slumps that saw him go from a potential everyday impact player to a late-inning sub and utility-spot starter.
Then, sometime in late July, Raburn would start to catch fire and morph back into his late winter form. Following the All-Star break, Raburn is a career .300 hitter. When it matters most, he's clutch—he gets the big hits and relishes in the opportunity.
For the Tigers, the only problem has been jump-starting that momentum earlier. His career .228 average before the All-Star break leaves little to be desired. It has been hard to attribute any one thing to Raburn's cold April and May starts, but he can ill-afford to repeat previous missteps.
Raburn hitting .300 in April and still hitting .300 in September could mean a half-dozen more wins for the Tigers over the stretch of baseball's long summer season.
Raburn has had arguably the best spring of any of the Tigers starters, albeit Delmon Young has continued to quiet his detractors as well. Raburn's numbers this spring speak volumes for his preparedness to enter 2012 on the right note.
A .310 batting average, .362 OBP and .833 slugging percentage are numbers Leyland would be happy to see down the back stretch this fall. Raburn's nine extra-base hits include six home runs and he's also knocked in 18 runs while drawing five walks.
His March mashing continues to impress. A continuation of this spring's OPS of 1.195 and 35 total bases could earn him the opportunity to hit elsewhere in the lineup should one of Detroit's other hot-seat players drop the ball.
It's time for him to be the type of starter that refuses to relinquish his place in the lineup because of early-season mediocrity. His time is now and he has proven he's ready.
Perhaps Detroit's turnstile at second base will finally come to a halt with Raburn making an extended stay for the 2012 season and beyond.
Bleacher Report Featured Columnist J. Cook is a member of B/R's 2012 MLB Spring Training Coverage Team and contributes to B/R's MLB content and Detroit Tigers page. He also covers key sport interest stories for all of Detroit's major sports teams.
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