MIAMI -- After years as a superstar on other teams, Justin Upton is just another guy in a Tigers clubhouse full of stars. It was easy, he said, to settle in and feel comfortable.When the Tigers open the regular season on Tuesday night against the Marlins, however, Upton will be
MIAMI -- After years as a superstar on other teams, Justin Upton is just another guy in a Tigers clubhouse full of stars. It was easy, he said, to settle in and feel comfortable.
When the Tigers open the regular season on Tuesday night against the Marlins, however, Upton will be up front in the batting order.
Though manager Brad Ausmus hasn't released his batting order, he confirmed the biggest question surrounding it: Upton will bat second between Ian Kinsler and Miguel Cabrera, the combination used most often this spring. For now, one of baseball's most-feared hitters will bat in front of arguably the greatest hitter of his generation.
"Hitting in front of him will be fun," Upton said. "I'll be doing a lot of running."
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There's reasoning behind the move. As Ausmus discussed early in Spring Training, the Tigers studied the strike percentage Torii Hunter saw two years ago batting in front of Cabrera compared to behind him. The difference was significant.
Though just 448 of Upton's 4,934 career plate appearances have been from the second spot, he picked up 211 in Atlanta three years ago. In 2013, he batted .263 with 27 home runs, 70 RBIs and an .818 OPS. Upton batted .301 with a .381 on-base percentage and a .922 OPS from the second spot.
Upton had Freddie Freeman hitting behind him then. Even Freeman, who finished fifth in National League MVP Award voting that year, doesn't compare to the bat looming behind Upton now.
"Miggy's a generational player," Upton said. "He's special. I don't think it's very easy to compare to him. It's a unique situation I've been put in, so I just try to enjoy it."
Since Cabrera moved from batting cleanup to third in 2012, the list of second hitters he has supported includes Hunter, Kinsler, Brennan Boesch, Andy Dirks, Quintin Berry and Omar Infante. Arguably none brought Upton's ability to capitalize on a strike.
"They have to be careful with him," Cabrera said, "because if they make a mistake with him, they're going to have a lot of trouble."
If pitchers are too careful with Upton, of course, they put a runner on for Cabrera. It's not teammate Justin Verlander's problem, but he understands the predicament.
"I don't know how I'd attack that," Verlander said. "You kind of go hitter by hitter. You try to get Justin out as best you can and then face Miggy. You don't worry about Miggy before he gets up there, but you're talking about two of the best hitters on the planet."
Upton, who drew nine walks and struck out 20 times in 54 at-bats this spring, will be watching.
"I'll get a better feel for how I'm pitched as the season goes on," Upton said. "Series to series, it's going to change, so I'll definitely have to be more aware of how teams are pitching me."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast.