DETROIT -- Although no date is officially set, Brandon Inge could return to the lineup on Saturday, as soon as he is eligible to come off the disabled list.

Inge was placed on the 15-day DL on April 3 with a strained left groin. He is on a rehab assignment with Triple-A Toledo, where he played nine innings at second base on Thursday night and went 0-for-3 with two walks. Overall, he is 1-for-9 with three walk, a run scored and a hit-by-pitch.

Inge told the Toledo Blade after Thursday's game that he will rejoin the Tigers in Chicago beginning Friday.

Inge hasn't exactly been lighting it up at the plate -- he hit .180 in Spring Training -- but manager Jim Leyland maintains his stance on his infielder.

"He's going to play second base against the left-handed pitching and, depending on what happens, maybe play a game at third base once in a while to give Miguel [Cabrera] a break," Leyland said.

Inge, who hit .245 against left-handers last season, was designated for assignment on July 20, 2011, to make room for Wilson Betemit, who was acquired in a trade with the Royals. After a month with the Mud Hens, he returned to the Tigers and finished the season with a .197 average.

With the Tigers signing Prince Fielder and Cabrera moving to third base, Inge requested a chance to compete at second base and won a job platooning with Ryan Raburn and Ramon Santiago.

Leyland has nothing but respect for Rodney

DETROIT -- Fernando Rodney saved 12 of Justin Verlander's 19 wins in 2009, Rodney's final year as a Tiger. In that sense, having Rodney on the mound in the ninth inning trying to close out one of Verlander's gems had to seem awfully familiar.

The sight of Rodney doing it in a different uniform, though, was completely different, both for him and Verlander.

When the Rays struck for four runs in the top of the ninth against Verlander on Wednesday, it set up Rodney for a bit of history. With Kyle Farnsworth out for the next four to six weeks while he deals with a strained right elbow, Rodney is the Rays' closer. And so, three years after he parted ways with Detroit as a free agent, he picked up his first save at Comerica Park since that '09 season.

Rodney took the mound to a chorus of boos from the crowd of 28,180.

"It's the fans, man," Rodney said. "The fans change minds some days if they don't feel great with what happened. Maybe they get mad with what happened to Verlander."

It was mildly surprising, but it might have been fitting.

"I have the utmost respect for Fernando Rodney," manager Jim Leyland said. "I thought he did a terrific job. I thought he was a real warrior here. I don't think Fernando Rodney ever got the credit he deserved in Detroit."

How much respect does Leyland have for Rodney? Leyland said the Tigers were "quietly interested" in Rodney when he was a free agent again this winter. Presumably, that interest was for the relief role that they eventually filled with Octavio Dotel.

Rodney signed a one-year, $2 million deal with the Rays in January for the chance to win.

If the Tigers are interested when Rodney hits the market again next winter, however, Rodney wouldn't rule it out. He still considers Leyland a good friend.

"This is my first team to give me the opportunity to play baseball," Rodney said. "You never say no. Just keep playing. You never know."

Verlander's loss puts streak in perspective

DETROIT -- Prior to Wednesday's 4-2 loss to the Rays, Drew Smyly, who made his Major League debut on Thursday, was still pitching in A ball the last time Justin Verlander lost a game.

That's how long ago July 15, 2011, was. That's when Verlander went six innings and gave up four runs in an eventual 8-2 loss to the White Sox. From then, though, the ace rattled off 12 straight victories and 14 straight games without a loss on his way to being crowned the American League's Most Valuable Player and Cy Young Award winner.

Catcher Alex Avila said on Thursday morning that just the fact that he's fielding questions about the streak puts into perspective how impressive it was.

"It's pretty amazing," Avila said.

Despite the loss, Avila compared the start with Verlander's no-hitter against the Blue Jays on May 7 of last season. Verlander entered the ninth inning having thrown just 81 pitches.

"That was pretty close," Avila said. "Going into the ninth inning with that few pitches for him ... That was probably one of his best games going into the ninth inning, for sure."

Laird excited about receiving World Series ring

DETROIT -- The Cardinals' home opener is Friday, and the 2011 World Series champions are scheduled to receive their championship rings on Saturday. Gerald Laird doesn't know when he'll get his, but he knows exactly what he's going to do with it when he does.

"Trust me, when I get it, you'll see it," Laird said.

Laird, who signed a one-year deal with the Tigers worth $1 million in November, will sport the ring around the clubhouse for the first day or two, and possibly wear it on some road trips, but it will usually be stored in his trophy case at home -- and safe when he leaves.

Whereas some champion rings are big and gaudy, Laird believes this one will look perfect on his finger.

"It's not overdone," he said. "It looks really clean and nice and something you can wear around and not feel uncomfortable."

Laird served as the backup to catcher Yadier Molina last season, hitting .232 with 12 RBIs and one home run in 95 at-bats.

Worth noting

• Despite two ninth-inning appearances in the past two days, closer Jose Valverde will be available on Thursday.

• Max Scherzer, who's been ill, pitched well in his side session on Wednesday and will make his start in the White Sox home opener on Friday.