Evan Petzold | Detroit Free Press
It’s no secret Detroit Tigers‘ two-time MVP Miguel Cabrera has battled through injuries in recent years. Some have sidelined him, others he fought past as a regular in the starting lineup.
At 37 years old, Cabrera came into the 2020 season healthy. During the 60-game sprint, he has looked as happy as ever — smiling with teammates, coaches and opponents.
That’s a good sign, considering the last three seasons. His left bicep ruptured in June 2018 and forced him out of the remainder of the season. Last year, he competed through a right knee injury.
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There’s no chance he returns to first base.
Cabrera, batting in the No. 3 spot as the designated hitter, hasn’t missed a game this season, even though his numbers indicate his aging and injury history. But the 18-year veteran still shows glimpses of his greatness.
“Historically, Cabrera is a guy that plays,” interim manager Lloyd McClendon said Wednesday. “He loves to be in that lineup. As a result, he puts up the numbers that he puts up, but he’s a tough guy. I can remember when he was playing first base, and he played on one leg with a bad ankle and put up tremendous numbers, almost MVP-type season.”
On Wednesday at Target Field, Cabrera delivered two three-run homers — one in the sixth inning, another in the ninth. He carried the Tigers in a 7-6 loss to the Minnesota Twins. It was his first six-RBI game since May 2013.
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“Over the years, I’ve been very fortunate to have the opportunity to play with, to coach and even manage some of the greatest hitters, and I think Miggy fits right up there at the top with all of them,” McClendon said. “This guy’s special. And he’s not done.”
He now possesses 486 career home runs, seven away from tying Lou Gehrig and Fred McGriff for 28th all-time. He has 1,726 career RBIs, and his performance Wednesday pushed him past 1,200 in a Tigers uniform — the seventh player to do so, joining Ty Cobb, Al Kaline, Harry Heilmann, Charlie Gehringer, Sam Crawford and Hank Greenberg.
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Milestone after milestone, Cabrera lives in the presence of these Hall of Famers because, someday, he is going to join them in Cooperstown.
Despite the accolades, including becoming the runs scored leader (1,455) among Venezuelan-born players in MLB history, Cabrera refused to speak with reporters after games.
This shortened season has left him frustrated.
“In some ways, it’s been a tough year for him,” McClendon said. “He’s hit a lot of balls and didn’t get a lot to show for it, but he still has some home runs. It’s still in there. At this stage in his career, he’s a guy that needs that spring training to get his timing and get things going. Hopefully, next year, I think you’ll see that average bounce back up.”
His expected .289 batting average does not reflect his actual .241 mark. His exit velocity averages 92.8 mph, good for the top 6% in baseball. But he only has four doubles and nine home runs, with three of those homers coming in the last three games.
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Cabrera’s minus-0.5 oWAR, measuring his offensive wins above replacement, is the lowest of his career. Athis peak , he recorded a 9.1 oWAR in 2013.
Could this year’s spring training shutdown — because of the COVID-19 pandemic — be to blame for Cabrera’s shortcomings?
Cabrera got to play 14 games this spring, slashing .333/.385/.611 with three homers and seven RBIs. Then, on March 12, games were canceled. That day served as his final contest against a true opponent until a July 21 exhibition with the Cincinnati Reds.
“At that age, it can be tough,” McClendon said. “You need that spring training to get your rhythm, your timing going and get those at-bats under your belt. This has been an up-and-down year for him as a result of all that.”
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Even with the decline in production, Cabrera can contribute an occasional boost while he’s still under contract the next two seasons.
And a whole lot of leadership.
“He gave me advice from the very beginning,” said 21-year-old rookie Isaac Paredes, the Tigers’ No. 6 prospect. “The first advice he gave me was to come out on the field and enjoy the game. He talks to me when I’m down, when I’m struggling. He says whatever he says to make me laugh and forget everything that is bad around me.”
Evan Petzold is a sports reporting intern at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.