CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Thursday afternoon's buzz was all about pitcher Jacob Arrieta making his Grapefruit League debut, particularly when he struck out the first two batters.Then Tigers first baseman Jose Cabrera stepped into the box.And he proceeded to do what Miguel Cabrera does.Cabrera picked on Arrieta's 92-mph fastball, driving it
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Thursday afternoon's buzz was all about pitcher Jacob Arrieta making his Grapefruit League debut, particularly when he struck out the first two batters.
Then Tigers first baseman Jose Cabrera stepped into the box.
And he proceeded to do what Miguel Cabrera does.
Cabrera picked on Arrieta's 92-mph fastball, driving it onto the right-field berm at Spectrum Stadium, serving up more notice that he intends to rebound from a subpar, injury-riddled performance in 2017.
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Cabrera was 2-for-4 in the Tigers' 6-2 victory over the Phillies. He's batting .333 (and slugging .542) in spring with two homers and 11 RBIs.
For years, first-year Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire watched his Twins pitchers trying to deal with Cabrera.
He likes this view much better.
"It's fun,'' Gardenhire said. "It's actually fun, getting to see him walk up and beating the ball against other people rather than beating the ball against us.
"I've always had total respect for him. Nothing has changed. I love him. I love having him in the clubhouse. I love being around him. He's one of the best hitters I've ever seen."
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In 15 seasons, Cabrera is a career .317 batter and is 38 home runs shy of the 500 mark. He won the American League batting title four times in a five-season span, and has led the AL in on-base percentage four times. Twice, he led the league in slugging percentage and OPS.
So it's no wonder that eyebrows were raised in 2017, when he slumped to a .249 batting average, 16 homers and 60 RBIs.
But there was a mitigating circumstance.
Cabrera had two herniated disks in his back in 2017, limiting him to 130 games (a telltale statistic, considering that Cabrera played the most games in the Majors -- 1,732 -- from 2004-14).
Now healthy, Cabrera's spring performance has provided a good vibe.
"He's like the old Miggy," Tigers outfielder Michael Mahtook said. "Look, he's one of the best hitters ever. It's fun to watch him and see how he works."
When Cabrera was removed from Thursday's game, he spent considerable time in the clubhouse stretching out. It makes sense. He will turn 35 on April 18. To hear Gardenhire and teammates project the possibilities, it sounds like big-time Cabrera numbers could return.
"Health took its toll on [Cabrera] last year," Gardenhire said. "If he stays healthy this year, you're going to see a guy killing the baseball. He has the perfect approach. He can drive it out to right. He can pull it if he wants to. He's just a really, really good hitter. He's as good as it gets."
Joey Johnston is a contributor to MLB.com.