WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The stop sign went up early from third-base coach Dave Clark as Jim Adduci's ground-ball single carried through into left field. Jose Cabrera took a quick peek on his way from second base, put his head down and charged around third anyway, much like he does more than a few times during the season.
So, yes, Cabrera seems good to go.
Cabrera didn't score, beaten home by Nationals left fielder Andrew Stevenson's throw from left. But as he picked himself up from his slide and waited for his first-base glove for the bottom of the first inning, his body language was as much of a sign he's back to normal as his ambitious baserunning.
"He said, 'I just want to see what I can do. I want to see how I am feeling,'" Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said after the Tigers' 6-2 loss to the Nationals at the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. "As soon as we saw him go by, I thought, He just wants to stretch it out a little bit and see where he's at.' I said, 'Just make sure you tell Dave that.' It's not a big deal. It wasn't about anything other than he just wanted to run. He feels great and that's good for us. But I told him, 'Let's keep it that way. We don't want to get killed here, right?'"
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By all indications, the 34-year-old former Triple Crown winner, two-time American League MVP and four-time batting champion is healthy after back issues hampered him for virtually all of last season. Just as important for the rebuilding Tigers, Cabrera seems happy.
"Yeah, I feel good," Cabrera said a couple of days ago. "Everything is about results right now. And the results have been good. It's positive."
Jim Leyland used to say that the most important task for an incoming manager is to get the veterans of a team to buy into the plan. In normal situations, the plan is a manager's path to contention for a team that has struggled to win. The Tigers are not currently in that situation. Gardenhire has a young team that is likely to get younger as Detroit's rebuilding project continues to take shape.
In the middle of that youth movement is Cabrera, who has played through everything from a groin tear to a fractured foot to help the Tigers win in playoff races. With his 35th birthday approaching, he's now tasked with helping younger players while continuing his individual greatness and helping the Tigers win as much as they can.
"He's running around. He's pretty excited," Gardenhire said. "As I've said earlier, he's done all the drills. He's been involved in them. I mean, we were doing rundowns on the back fields and they said he was into the rundowns. He's feeling pretty good, and that's what we want to keep. He's excited to be here."
So far, Gardenhire is overjoyed at what he sees. But after years of managing against Cabrera, Gardenhire understandably likes the view better from this side.
"I still flinch when he swings," Gardenhire said, "just like I did in the other dugout. He's a professional hitter, he stays on the ball and he really stays through it, and he works at it and he drives it. And then in the game, he does the same thing. And then you make that mistake inside, and his bat's so quick through the zone.
"You know what, the greatest thing to do is to watch him take [batting practice]. If all of our hitters would take notice of that and watch how he patterns out and drives through the ball and stays through that, they would all be better hitters. He has a great plan, and that's why he's been such a great hitter for a long, long time."
Last year, Cabrera's back prevented him from doing as much as he usually does with his swing. So far, that swing is back, and he's sending line drives across the outfield gaps in batting practice. He'll stick to that pattern, left field to right, and then he'll send a ball out with distance. He hit the top of the batter's eye earlier in the week without looking like he gave more than a flick of the bat.
Cabrera went 1-for-3 with a first-inning single Sunday, but he's now batting .375 for the spring. He's expected to be back in the lineup Monday against the Mets in Port St. Lucie as the Tigers wrap up their two-day trip to Florida's Atlantic coast, close to Cabrera's home near Miami.