Miggy ties Carew for most career hits vs. KC

May 24th, 2023

KANSAS CITY -- The sight of knocking a base hit around Kauffman Stadium has become all too familiar for Royals fans over the years. The way the Tigers struggled Tuesday, the hit was a welcome sight for both hitter and team.

As Cabrera’s sixth-inning line drive landed in center field for a one-out single, he not only furthered a much-needed Tigers rally in Tuesday’s 4-1 loss, but he also made a bit of history. His 3,103rd career hit was his 263rd against the Royals, tying him with Hall of Famer Rod Carew for most in history.

This city is where Cabrera has often been at his most dangerous. He clinched his Triple Crown here in 2012, and Royals fans celebrated him like one of their own. He drove in 14 runs off Royals pitching the following season on his way to another batting title and MVP Award. Even recently, he tormented Kansas City, batting .355 with 17 RBIs in just 16 games against this club two years ago.

With one more game left in this series, plus 10 more matchups this season, Cabrera will surely pass Carew. The shorter-term matter for Cabrera is to get his bat going against other opponents and provide more production in the DH slot for a lineup that has run hot and cold this month, including a deep freeze Tuesday against Royals spot starter Mike Mayers.

Manager A.J. Hinch has picked his spots for starting Cabrera, usually against lefties. Hinch has tried to balance getting a future Hall of Famer and savvy hitter a diet of at-bats in his farewell season while also opening at-bats for younger hitters who need to develop and take on the burden of production that Cabrera shouldered for so many years.

“I think about it every series, because I want to keep him a part of this and he wants to be a part of it,” Hinch said last week. “I feel for him, because at the same time that he’s getting older and not quite the same hitter as he was in his prime, I’m asking him to play less and create more timing issues for him by playing once a series. I think I even gave him four days off in between a couple of starts.”

Last week’s two-game series against the Pirates marked just the third set of back-to-back starts for Cabrera since the Tigers’ season-opening series at Tampa Bay. Tuesday marked Cabrera’s second start of this road trip. He faced lefty Patrick Corbin last Saturday at Washington, but with no southpaws starting for Kansas City this series, Cabrera got a start against the right-handed Mayers.

After Mayers sent Cabrera swinging at three sliders for a second-inning strikeout, Cabrera had a bases-loaded, two-out opportunity in the fourth, the kind of situation in which Cabrera haunted the Royals for years. Mayers went back to the slider and got Cabrera to hit a ground ball to third for an inning-ending fielder’s choice.

Cabrera’s single came off a slider from Royals reliever Jose Cuas, whom he had hit for an RBI double last July. He patiently worked his way out of an 0-2 hole and forced Cuas to challenge him in the strike zone, emulating the approach many younger Tigers hitters are trying to adopt or polish. He worked ahead in the count in similar fashion in the eighth before flying out on a slider from Taylor Clarke.

The selectivity on sliders isn’t accidental. He’s batting .333 with an average 94-mph exit velocity off breaking pitches this season, according to Statcast, including two of his three doubles. He’s swinging and missing at a 47.4 percent rate off breaking balls, but the reward when he connects has negated it. By contrast, he has just a 15.5 percent whiff rate on fastballs, but just 8-for-58 on them. He hit .297 off heaters last year. Until and unless he can get closer to that production, tracking breaking balls might be his path to production.

Cabrera is hardly to blame for the Tigers’ up-and-down production. While Detroit has dug out of its slow start by going 11-8 in May, six of those losses have seen the Tigers score two runs or fewer. A Javier Báez fifth-inning RBI single off Cuas kept Detroit from a fourth shutout this month.