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Ausmus optimistic on Miggy's progression

ST. PETERSBURG -- While scouts flocked to Tropicana Field to watch David Price pitch Tuesday in his final start before Friday's non-waiver Trade Deadline, Miguel Cabrera took another day of batting practice before the game, three-and-a-half weeks since he strained his left calf and landed on the disabled list. How quickly the Tigers can expect him to return could have an impact on the team's decision with Price for the stretch.

The way Cabrera is progressing, manager Brad Ausmus is optimistic he could be back sooner rather than later.

"What was the timetable, six to eight weeks? I'm optimistic he'll be on the short side of that," Ausmus said Monday.

To watch Cabrera in batting practice would give every indication he could be fast-tracked. He sent line drives out to all fields as usual with a free and easy swing, and he was upbeat enough that he signed autographs for fans for several minutes afterwards.

Since the injury is in the front leg of Cabrera's swing, he doesn't have to worry about the pressure of loading up his swing. The swing isn't in question, nor actually is his defense.

"Miggy will be fine at first [base]. I'm not worried about that," Ausmus said Tuesday. "We've just got to get him to a point where he can play first. If he can play first, he'll be able to hit. And if he can hit, he'll be able to play first."

The question with Cabrera, as with many hitters dealing with leg injuries, is baserunning. And it's enough of a concern that the Tigers might want him to do a Minor League rehab assignment to test out his baserunning, rather than risk him running too aggressively upon return and aggravating his injury.

"He has to be healthy," Ausmus said. "We can't rush him back. I'd be more concerned that if you play him in a big league game and he re-injured himself, he'd have to restart on the DL. I'd be concerned if we didn't play him in a Minor League game."

Cabrera's running is currently limited to a treadmill. That's a long way from having to accelerate and slow down on the basepaths.

"The biggest concern is the explosive moves, the first step coming out of the box or the first step to get a ground ball, that type of thing," Ausmus said. "You can try to simulate it, but really game situations are different."

The hope is that he can make that progression quickly. The sooner he returns, the sooner the Tigers' lineup gets back to full strength. It might not make a major difference statistically -- the lineup has fared surprisingly well since Cabrera went on the DL -- but his presence in the lineup could make a big difference in close games.

Jason Beck is a reporter for Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast.
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