LAKELAND, Fla. -- The buzz around Tigertown began as Matthew Boyd was working out in the weight room Monday morning before the Tigers' first full-squad workout of Spring Training."He let me know he was facing me first," Boyd said of Miguel Cabrera. "I let him know what was coming. I
LAKELAND, Fla. -- The buzz around Tigertown began as Matthew Boyd was working out in the weight room Monday morning before the Tigers' first full-squad workout of Spring Training.
"He let me know he was facing me first," Boyd said of Miguel Cabrera. "I let him know what was coming. I told him, 'I'm still going to get you out.' We were jawing all day. It was good stuff."
:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::
A few hours later, when Cabrera stepped into the box against Boyd on the back fields, it was Cabrera's first look at live pitching since his season-ending biceps injury last June. It's called live batting practice, but many hitters use it to simply track pitches and get used to the speed of an at-bat again.
Cabrera took some pitches, made some faces, said some words to catcher John Hicks, then said some more words to Boyd.
"Talking trash a little bit," Cabrera said later with a sheepish smile.
Cabrera offered some swings, fouled a couple pitches, then laced a line drive toward the opposite-field gap. Nobody seemed particularly shocked.
"On Day 1, after not doing it for a very long time," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "You and I wouldn't have gotten one out of the cage. And he was actually putting the barrel on some balls. …
"There's special people -- and I'm not one of them -- when it comes to hitting. And he definitely is. He's just a unique person when it comes to that."
It's why the Tigers missed Cabrera so badly last summer. It's also why everyone, including Cabrera, places a priority on keeping him in the lineup this year.
"Bottom line, I have to stay healthy," Cabrera said. "The last two years, I've been hurt. I've been hurting the team, too, because if I don't play, it's one less player. When one guy in the lineup gets hurt, the whole lineup changes. When you play every day, you're going to put up some numbers."
It's not just one less player when Cabrera has been hurt, it's a future Hall of Famer. It's also a hitter who, even with his 36th birthday coming up in April, can serve as the center of a lineup.
"We need to be better," Boyd said, "and we need to learn to go along without any one player. Our team's more than just that. But that just speaks to who he is in this clubhouse. It speaks to who he is on the field. He's huge for us. In so many different ways.
"He's here, and he's healthy, and he's had a year to let everything heal. I think that's pretty awesome. I'm excited to see what happens. He took some good hacks today. We're excited to have him back."
As much as the Tigers missed Cabrera last season, the bounce in his step Monday showed how badly he missed baseball. He joked around with everybody from Boyd and Hicks to non-roster catching prospect Brady Policelli. He wore a smile on his face through morning defensive drills, getting down the fundamentals he has been practicing for years.
"A long time not being on the field," Cabrera said. "I was excited. … I missed the game a lot last year. To be back in the field, I feel great, and I feel good about being healthy this year and doing my job."
Though a torn biceps muscle ended Cabrera's season, he believes the key to staying healthy will be his back and legs. Two herniated disks in his lumbar spine bothered him throughout the 2017 season, and led to pain in his hips and legs.
The biceps injury gave him time to rest the back.
"My arm feels good," Cabrera said. "I don't have any issues right now. I have to worry more about my back to stay healthy."
He isn't the only one worried, which is why Gardenhire wants to put Cabrera at designated hitter at least part time this season. But as Gardenhire watched Cabrera fire perfect throws without fail in defensive drills Monday, he was reminded why he's valuable in the field.
"You just forget how gifted he really is," Gardenhire said.
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.