Miggy looking for hits any way he can get 'em

Slugger picking and choosing his spots; Mahtook sets Tigers record

April 10th, 2019

DETROIT -- is not a big launch angle proponent. Look for line drives, use the whole ball and hit the ball hard, his thought process usually goes, and the production will follow.

As Cabrera stepped to the plate against longtime foe Corey Kluber with a runner on in the fifth inning Tuesday, he made an exception and let it fly.

“It was a perfect situation,” Cabrera explained after the Tigers’ 8-2 loss to the Indians, “because I got him first pitch. I’ve faced Kluber for a lot of years and he doesn’t want a strikeout. He wants a ground ball. So I made myself ready to hit the ball in the air and I got it.”

Cabrera had tried something similar in his previous at-bat a couple innings earlier, when he got a sinker off the plate inside and hit a soft line drive to left. It had just a 62 mph exit velocity, 40 degrees slower than his first-inning groundout, but it had the right location to fall for a single.

This time, Cabrera saw a first-pitch cutter that wandered over the heart of the strike zone and drilled it to the depths of Comerica Park’s left-center field for an RBI double. It was his first extra-base hit of the season.

“When you don’t have many hits early in the season,” Cabrera said, “you need to find out how you’re going to make the contact, how you’re going to find the hits.”

The metrics say Cabrera should be hitting better than he has so far this season. The numbers are getting closer over the course of the homestand. With Tuesday’s two-hit performance, Cabrera raised his average to .263. He entered Wednesday’s matchup with Trevor Bauer batting 7-for-13 with four walks and two strikeouts this homestand. His three RBIs and .681 OPS are still well under his usual standards.

Statcast provides plenty of reason to think that production should jump soon. Cabrera's average exit velocity of 93.7 mph ranked in the 90th percentile among Major League hitters this season through last weekend, and matches his exit velocities from 2015 and '16. His hard-hit rate of 50 percent ranks in the 81st percentile.

The major complication is Cabrera's average launch angle. At 6.3 degrees, it’s half his career norm, which explains why he entered Wednesday with a career-high 1.45 ratio of ground balls to fly balls, according to baseball-reference.com.

Cabrera gets it, and said he “wanted to hit the ball so hard” during the Tigers’ season-opening road trip at hitter-friendly Rogers Centre and Yankee Stadium. Now that he’s back home, though, he wants to pick and choose his spots rather than fall into a fly-ball trap while he’s still trying to find his timing at the plate.

“It doesn’t make sense to me right now trying to hit fly balls or something like that when I’m hitting .200,” Cabrera said. “I’m going to put myself in a bad position. So I prefer right now to get my hits, getting my timing, and when I feel good sometimes, swing hard and let it fly.”

Manager Ron Gardenhire isn’t fretting it.

"There's a lot of things I worry about in this game," Gardenhire said before Tuesday’s game. "Cabrera's not one of them."

Mahtook scuffling

Gardenhire did his best Tuesday to try to loosen up struggling outfielder .

“I told him yesterday in BP, ‘You’re hitting a lot of balls in the air. One thing I want you to do is try to cover the ball a little bit better in BP, work on line drives and hard ground balls, because everything’s going up the air and they’re outs,’” Gardenhire said.

“And I told him, ‘If you don’t do this in BP and I watch you pop it up, I will take you out of the lineup.’ He smiled and he said ‘OK.’'”

With two strikeouts against Kluber and two groundouts late, it didn’t break Mahtook out of his hitless start. He’s now 0-for-23 for the season and 0-for-31 since his last hit, a single Sept. 27 at Minnesota in the next-to-last series of the season.

According to Elias Sports Bureau, Mahtook’s hitless streak is the longest by a Tigers non-pitcher to open a season. Brandon Inge opened the 2007 season with an 0-for-20 slump; Torey Lovullo did the same in 1989, as did Hank Riebe in '48.

Mahtook’s struggles are overshadowed by Chris Davis, who entered Wednesday at 0-for-28 on the season and 0-for-49 since his last hit. The latter is a Major League record. That surely doesn’t give Mahtook much consolation.

“When you’re struggling, you’re struggling,” Gardenhire said. “It’s early in the year. You just have to ride it out. He’s not the only one [struggling]. We’ve got a lot of them.”

Compounding the streak was Mahtook’s error Tuesday in center field, where he has been filling in for injured . Mahtook charged Eric Stamets’ line-drive single readying for a potential play at the plate with Brad Miller rounding third. In the process, however, Mahtook didn’t get his glove low enough to field the ball, which bounced past him and kept rolling as Stamets rounded the bases.

“People miss the ball,” Gardenhire said. “He just missed the ball. You can try to compound it now, [saying] he’s been playing bad defense. He’s been fine defensively."

Mahtook was out of the lineup Wednesday with pitching.

"I don’t want to pile on this kid," Gardenhire said. "He’s busting his butt. He works hard every day out there. He takes his fungos. He took them yesterday. I watched him. He’s trying, believe me. He’s not trying to pop up, he’s not trying to strike out, and he’s not trying to miss the ball. So you just keep working.”

Jones rehab transferred to Toledo

Jones isn’t back in center field in Detroit just yet, but the injured speedster is now within driving distance. The Tigers are transferring his rehab assignment to Triple-A Toledo, Gardenhire said Wednesday morning.

Jones has been on the 10-day injured list since the start of the season with a sprained AC joint in his left shoulder. Barring a change of plans, he’s expected to remain with the Mud Hens until at least next week in order to get a steady diet of at-bats.

Gardy quote of the day

“I’m worried about just being able to land the plane there.” -- Gardenhire when asked if he’s worried about his starting rotation order for this weekend’s series at Minnesota with a winter storm set to hit the Twin Cities.