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Miggy having a blast, or four, this spring

With biceps injury in the past, Cabrera shows his usual power
@beckjason
March 23, 2019

LAKELAND, Fla. -- The swing looked like something from 2012, a seemingly easy loft from Miguel Cabrera that sent a ball carrying out to right field. It kept carrying all the way into the Tigers’ bullpen for his second home run of the spring. The blast off Yankees left-hander Nestor

LAKELAND, Fla. -- The swing looked like something from 2012, a seemingly easy loft from Miguel Cabrera that sent a ball carrying out to right field. It kept carrying all the way into the Tigers’ bullpen for his second home run of the spring.

The blast off Yankees left-hander Nestor Cortes Jr. on March 10 wasn’t as far as the ball Cabrera hit out against Braves prospect Jacob Webb a week earlier. That one nearly hit the back of the visiting bullpen in right-center, barely missing the concourse. He hadn’t pulled a ball for much power until Thursday, when he drilled a pitch from Astros prospect Corbin Martin to one of the deepest parts of the left-field berm. He'd go yard once again on Saturday, against Hunter Wood of the Rays.

“He’s feeling really good, starting to see it really good,” Gardenhire continued. “That tells you where he’s at.”

All four homers were impressive reminders of what Cabrera, even with his 36th birthday approaching in four weeks, can do when he’s healthy.

“Not too long ago, everybody was [asking] what happened to his power,” Tigers general manager Al Avila said. “Well, you saw he still has it.”

He went hitless for a week after that second homer, an 0-for-10 slump with seven strikeouts. His frustration built to the point that he was ejected from a Grapefruit League game for arguing balls and strikes with a Triple-A umpire.

“I like to see that, the fact that these at-bats matter, even to a guy that's won a Triple Crown,” said Doug Mientkiewicz, the Tigers’ manager for that split-squad game.

For a slugger in the back half of his 30s, it still matters. Cabrera is completing a decade that has seen him win a Triple Crown, four batting titles, two MVP awards and make four consecutive postseason appearances. Yet after back-to-back injury-plagued seasons, those feats feel more distant.

Cabrera is under contract through 2023, so there’s a good chance he’ll be around when the Tigers’ youth movement comes back around to contend, even though he’ll be near 40 by then. His biggest chases at the moment are personal milestones -- 3,000 hits and 500 home runs -- both of which appear reachable next season if he stays healthy. But Cabrera is still competing for team feats.

“I always think you play for a reason. You play to win games,” Cabrera said.

If he can stay healthy, the Tigers could possibly compete. They’ll at least be better than the 98-loss seasons they’ve posted the last two years. He’s still that impactful.

Lost in the disappointment of his injury-shortened 2018 campaign was how it was going before his biceps tear. He was batting .299 with three homers, 22 RBIs and an .843 OPS despite brutally cold weather that normally doesn’t treat him well. He hit .326 in March and April before missing a month with a right hamstring strain.

He’s important enough that the Tigers are weighing how much to play him at DH versus first base, to limit the wear and tear of playing the field.

The concern isn’t the biceps tear, suffered on a swing. It’s his back and legs -- issues for the last few years after he played through injuries during his prime seasons while the Tigers were chasing postseason glory. Even when Cabrera was playing down the stretch in 2017, his back issues limited his swing.

“He’s going to DH, but he’s going to play some first base,” Gardenhire said.

Cabrera also wants to lead. He spent Spring Training talking with many of the young players in camp, a point that was reinforced when talking with Avila about the team’s situation.

“We discussed that early on, when we started this rebuilding process,” Avila said. “He has always said, ‘I’ll do whatever you guys want me to do.’ He does it, even with the young guys from Minor League camp. In that sense, he’s been great.”

But Cabrera’s best leadership is in action. Youngsters like Christin Stewart have watched Cabrera’s pregame batting practice routine, not for the majestic home runs but for the focus on drives from line to line before that.

“Just to see his approach every day,” Stewart said. “His first round, doesn’t matter if he gets jammed or whatever, he’s shooting it the other way. And then he’ll eventually start working it across the field. It’s pretty cool watching that.”

The more Cabrera’s around, the better the Tigers are. He’s hitting well enough that Gardenhire wants him to bat third to get as many plate appearances as possible.

“The swing’s there,” Avila said. “He’s focused. He’s healthy. We have to keep him healthy.”

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