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Cabrera after ejection: 'I want to be a leader'

Veteran misses most of first-half-ending loss to Red Sox
July 7, 2019

DETROIT -- Miguel Cabrera’s All-Star break began eight innings earlier than planned after an ejection from plate umpire Will Little. That move, and his reaction after Sunday’s 6-3 loss to the Red Sox, says a lot about the way the Tigers' season has gone. • Box score What began with

DETROIT -- Miguel Cabrera’s All-Star break began eight innings earlier than planned after an ejection from plate umpire Will Little. That move, and his reaction after Sunday’s 6-3 loss to the Red Sox, says a lot about the way the Tigers' season has gone.

Box score

What began with what Cabrera believes is an inconsistent strike zone for him and Detroit’s struggling young team evolved into a statement about the leadership he’s trying to display as the Tigers try to keep their season together.

“I don't like to argue strikes and balls, because it's wrong,” the 17-year veteran said with the occasional help of a translator. “But at some point, you have to be fair. This year, since we have a young team, I've seen so many times that we're getting strikes called that are out of the zone.”

Cabrera took a called third strike in the first inning in each game of the three-game series. Each time, he protested. While Joe West and his crew let him have his say the first two games, they let him know Sunday they were getting tired of it.

“So [West] told me that I have to be a leader,” Cabrera said. “And then I told him, 'Yeah, that's why I'm here. I'm trying to be a leader because it has not been fair the way you guys been calling balls and strikes recently.'”

By the time Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire could intervene and take over the argument, a tactic that accounts for several of his Major League-leading seven ejections this season, Cabrera had received his 11th career ejection.

“Joe West called me over and we were talking about how he was loud in the dugout and he was waving his arms,” Gardenhire said. “But Cabby does that every day. And that’s what I was telling him. And then he was waving his arms at the home-plate umpire [Little], and the umpire threw him out. …

“I said, ‘Guys, he’s done this every day you guys have been here. He’s done it every day for the last two months.’ He waves his arms and he’s talking with everybody on the field. But it didn’t matter.”

Part of it is that as a full-time designated hitter, Cabrera has time between at-bats to watch video of balls and strikes. He no longer has the release of playing first base. Part, too, is the makeup of the team around him, including several players without a full season in the Majors, and the struggles they’ve endured. Though the Tigers finished the first half with the same number of losses (57) they had at the All-Star break last year, they did so in 13 fewer games thanks to rainouts and scheduling.

Cabrera missed most of last year’s struggles while recovering from biceps surgery. He’s here now, and he’s disputing criticism that he hasn’t stepped up.

“I want to be a leader here,” Cabrera said. “I'm not a guy who's going to say, ‘You're doing this wrong.’ I'm like, 'You're OK. Tomorrow's a new day. You're good.'

“I'm not a guy to crucify some guys like that. In here, I say, 'You're OK. You're here in the big leagues for one reason -- because you're good. We believe in your talents.'”

For them, he said, the strike zone is a challenge.

“That's a big problem here,” Cabrera said. “When they call balls, strikes, you have to [adjust]. And they're young, and they swing at everything. It's no longer the strike zone.”

It didn’t matter much on Sunday. A day after Red Sox starter Rick Porcello held off a rally, David Price tossed five innings of one-run ball to become the fifth member of the 2014 Tigers rotation to earn a victory at Comerica Park this season. Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez did so last week. Justin Verlander picked up his in May.

By contrast, five current Tigers starters have wins this season, four at Comerica Park.

“It's tough,” Cabrera said. “But we have to understand we have a lot of injuries. We lose four starting pitchers. The only one we have is [Matthew] Boyd. He's doing a really good job.”

Boyd, whose emergence as an ace is of the bright spots of Detroit’s season, could be gone this month if the Tigers find a prospect package enticing enough to trade him.

“I don't know why people are saying we're going to trade him. We need him,” Cabrera said. “We need him because we have a lot of young guys in the Minor Leagues that can come together, and Boyd can help. He can be really good.”

Thus, opportunities have come to Gregory Soto, who began the year at Class A Advanced Lakeland. He hung in as well as he could Sunday serving as the opener after throwing 24 pitches in relief Friday night. But Christian Vazquez’s two-run homer in the second inning erased Detroit’s only lead of the series. Nick Ramirez, who began the season in Erie, retired his first seven batters before a three-run fifth inning. Jose Cisnero, who hadn’t pitched in the Majors since 2014 until his call-up last month, tossed two scoreless innings before the Red Sox tacked an add-on run against Eduardo Jimenez in his fourth Major League appearance.

Brandon Dixon’s 12th home run of the season cut into Detroit’s deficit. He enters the break as the only Tiger in double digits, despite not joining the club until its 20th game of the season. But with Cabrera gone, the Tigers lacked offensive firepower to keep up, another recurring theme to their struggles. Between bullpen woes and offensive inconsistency, the only Tigers starter to earn a win since June 4 is Boyd, last Thursday in Chicago.

Though the Tigers’ future remains bright in the farm system, Sunday was a microcosm of why the Tigers’ present is a grind.

“We have so much talent in the Minor Leagues,” Cabrera said. “I think we're going to be OK. I don't worry about that.”

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for since 2002. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason.