Managing knee pain, Miggy to reduce workload

August 5th, 2022

DETROIT -- A storybook career that was scripted to end in 2023 with a grand farewell tour across MLB now has many wondering if it might come to a close this season, as the Tigers are actively taking steps to reduce Miguel Cabrera’s workload.

Cabrera recently admitted that the chronic pain in his right knee is wearing on him. While the future Hall of Famer has soldiered through many injuries during his 20-year career, prior to Thursday’s series opener against the Rays, a 6-2 loss at Comerica Park, he told reporters that he’ll need to speak with his agent, general manager Al Avila and others before making a decision on whether he’ll play next season.

“He's hurting,” manager A.J. Hinch said. "I know he doesn't like to admit it. He's not moving around great, and I think he's playing through some pain.”

For now, the Tigers are less concerned with 2023 than they are with the immediate future. Hinch said that Cabrera will rest every other day during this seven-game, eight-day homestand. The veteran designated hitter will be available off the bench during those “off-days.”

Detroit won’t consider a trip to the injured list at this point, primarily because Cabrera’s chronic knee problems won’t be solved that way. Hinch allowed that if the issue continues later into the month, the Tigers may revisit an IL situation.

“I hate that he's not feeling great,” Hinch said. “He's played through so much pain in his career that we probably can't even fathom, but this time, I think that convinced him to openly talk about it and make sure we're doing the right thing.

“I just think nobody knows it except the player himself. And Miguel has done a nice job of disguising anything that he's played through. MVP seasons, he's played through pain. Some of his higher-end performance seasons, he's played through pain. I just think it's a bummer, because you don't want it to be this way for any of your guys, specifically those of his caliber.”

Cabrera, who slugged career home run No. 500 on Aug. 22, 2021, and collected career hit No. 3,000 on April 23, is hitting just .151 in his past 16 games. That’s probably the most telling sign you’ll get from a guy who not only played with a broken foot (2014) but battled through myriad injuries in his career, including a torn groin (’13), ankle issues (’16), back issues (’17) and a host of smaller maladies.

By the time he bounced back from season-ending surgery in 2018 to repair a torn left biceps, Cabrera was seven seasons removed from his AL Triple Crown season and was 2,264 games into his Major League career.

That 2019 season was the first time he was diagnosed with “chronic changes to his knee that are a natural result of the attrition of a long athletic career,” per Doug Teter, the Tigers’ head athletic trainer. Cabrera has played in 360 games since four specialists viewed those MRIs and came to a consensus that he could avoid surgery, and that the issue could be treated symptomatically based on how he felt.

“The doctors say I’ve had this for five years,” Cabrera said at the time. “I’m used to this. Sometimes you pay the price when you play for a lot of years. Sometimes you pay the price when you play when you’re hurt.”

Perhaps instead of asking how much more Cabrera has in the tank, the question should be how the 39-year-old has managed to produce so consistently for so long -- he’s still a career .309 hitter, remember -- despite all the aches and pains.

“I think it's the reality of aging and growing older, and the tread wearing thin on the tires,” Hinch said. “It's normal everyday life.”

Though Cabrera typically declines to talk about his injuries, he entertained a rare conversation at the All-Star Game during which he acknowledged that his balky knee was a big reason the Home Run Derby was never in consideration. This came as no shock to the Tigers or Hinch, the latter of whom said, “We’ve been talking about [it] behind closed doors for a bit.” But it certainly brought the issue more out into the open and gave the team a chance to take measures to address the issue.

“I think that's a big step for him, and also just a big step for any athlete that starts talking about some physical or inability physically to do some things,” Hinch said.