Cleveland — You can’t get mad at a Hall of Fame-level hitter for wanting to produce up to his own lofty standards. But if Tigers hitting coach Joe Vavra had his druthers, Miguel Cabrera would’ve left well enough alone.
“The trend continues with him,” Vavra said before the game Saturday. “His barrel percentage was up, his exit velo was good, but he wasn’t getting hits. And all of a sudden, that’s not good enough for Miguel Cabrera, so he wants to look at some things and change some things up, and that’s a hard concept for a guy as good as he is.”
Cabrera, despite reshaping his body, losing weight and taking considerable pressure off his chronically damaged right knee, hasn’t hit over .213 this season. But earlier this month, when he hit a home run and got three hits on Aug. 8, where he looked like he was pulling it together.
Since then, though, he’s 7-for-44, all singles, and just four RBIs. He’s fallen back into the swing mechanics he’d been forced to use because of the pain in his knee, not driving with his lower body and swinging mostly with his arms.
“We’ve been trying to sequence his swing so he gets everything going — his lower half with his upper half,” Vavra said. “We’re trying to keep his upper half and his hips turned in a little bit, so then he can start (his swing) early.”
High-velocity fastballs have been beating him regularly the last couple of years, that’s why he’s had to start his swing so early, to try to catch up to them. But that leaves him vulnerable to breaking balls and off-speed pitches away.
He’s hitting .238 on fastballs, .143 on sliders (41 percent swing-and-miss rate) and curveballs, and .100 on change-ups (61 percent swing-and-miss rate).
“He’s had a hard time getting to fastballs and the numbers show it,” Vavra said. “This year we’ve worked on getting to fastballs and now he’s having more difficulties with the off-speed. We are trying to balance that.”
It comes down to getting his lower half involved in the swing and getting it synced up with his upper body. Not an easy thing to do after essentially not using your lower body in your swing for two years.
“What he’s been good at all through his career, that’s what he needs to stay with,” Vavra said. “But the timing and sequencing — maybe it’s the leg issue, whatever. Players will adjust over time on their own based on how their body ages.
“Sometimes the adjustments are not good, sometimes they are beneficial.”
Cabrera singled and flew out in his last two at-bats Friday, both balls left his bat with an exit velocity of 94 mph. Which was encouraging.
“I think Miggy worries about getting hits,” Vavra said. “He wants to contribute and he wants to be that guy. You saw for four or five games (earlier this season) everything was just really good. He was barreling balls, driving balls and when we had guys in scoring position he was driving the ball where he needed to drive it.
“I totally believe the numbers will fall where they need to fall for him. But it’s a tough challenge in a 60-game season to get a guy going. He’s in good spirits and in a good frame of mind. On any given day he can turn it loose.”
Around the horn
It appears veteran right-hander Ivan Nova will be out a while longer. Tigers head athletic trainer Doug Teter said Saturday that Nova, out with a triceps strain, has yet to begin a throwing program. He is still rehabbing and feeling discomfort in the arm.
…Jordan Zimmermann, on the other hand, is progressing swiftly now. He came out of his bullpen session Friday feeling good and the plan is to transition him into simulated games next week. He is out with a forearm strain.
…Utility man Harold Castro (hamstring) is still in the early rehab stages.
…Third baseman Dawel Lugo, designated for assignment earlier in the week, cleared waivers and was reassigned to the Tigers’ taxi squad in Toledo.