| The Detroit News
Kansas City, Mo. – Lloyd McClendon looked into the Zoom camera with a knowing grin on his face.
“This guy is good,” he said. “Just when you count him out he bounces back.”
Miguel Cabrera, who on Aug. 22 was hitting .176 and had a stretch of 73 plate appearances without an extra-base hit, is suddenly clubbing the baseball again.
In the last two games he’s hit three balls a total of 1,301 feet – all of them landing in the seats, combining to drive in eight runs. The one he hit in the fifth inning in the Tigers’ 8-7 loss to the Royals Thursday was majestic.
He sent an 89-mph fastball from lefty Kris Bubic 450 feet into the batter’s eye in dead center field at Kauffman Stadium.
“When you don’t have your legs under you and you’re not feeling good as far as rhythm and timing, you’re probably going to hit a lot of ground balls,” McClendon said. “He is starting to find his groove, find his timing. When you have your legs under you, that’s when you generate bat speed.”
It was the eighth longest home run Cabrera has hit in the Statcast era and, not for nothing, it tied the game 4-4. It was his 10th of the season and the 487th of his career.
Since Aug. 23, Cabrera is hitting .314 with three doubles, six home runs and 24 RBIs.
“Miggy is in the best shape of his life, he feels good and he’s finding his timing,” McClendon said. “His legs are strong and a lot of issues are behind him from a health standpoint.
“So next year he should only get better.”
Cabrera had three hits and knocked in three runs. Rookie Willi Castro matched him with three hits, including his sixth home run of the season, and three RBIs.
“The way Willi is swinging it now, it’s loud and it’s impressive,” McClendon said. “And it’s from both side of the plate. That’s pretty encouraging going into next year.”
Still, for all their fight, it was another loss for the Tigers. They are 2-10 in their last 12 and now reside in the American League Central Division cellar.
On top of that, first baseman Jeimer Candelario left in the fourth inning with lower-back tightness. His availability will be determined on a day-to-day basis.
“His back tightened up, and it started with his hips locking up on him,” said McClendon. “The doc looked at him and he thinks he’s going to be OK. He may need a day, but he should get back in the lineup.”
The fatal inning for the Tigers was the sixth.
Lefty reliever Tyler Alexander had set down six of seven hitters (picking off the one runner who reached) but he fell behind Maikel Franco 3-1 to lead-off the inning. After a visit from pitching coach Rick Anderson, Alexander threw a change-up on the outside corner – a pretty good pitch, all things considered.
But Franco was strong enough to reach out and pull the pitch on a line, 411 feet, over the fence in left, breaking the 4-4 tie.
Then came another edition of the misadventures of Gregory Soto.
“Sometimes Soto-pop is like a box of chocolates,” McClendon said, channeling his inner Forrest Gump. “You’re not quite sure what you are going to get.”
Soto walked three and gave up an RBI double to pinch-hitter Jorge Soler. Soto, who threw 24 pitches and 15 balls, left a bases-loaded, one-out mess for Joe Jimenez.
“Soto has been good for us,” McClendon said. “He just misfired tonight.”
Jimenez came within a couple inches of getting out of it. He got Whit Merrifield on a broken-bat pop-up, but Adalberto Mondesi, who had four hits on the night, hit a line drive that tipped off Castro’s glove at shortstop, driving home two more runs.
The Tigers didn’t roll over. They banged out four straight singles and scored three runs with two out in the top of the eighth. With Austin Romine on first, Victor Reyes, Willi Castro, Cabrera and pinch-hitter Harold Castro all had base hits — 8-7.
Reliever Jake Newberry finally ended the inning by striking out Niko Goodrum and then worked a clean ninth for his first career save..
The Royals’ got their first four runs off Tigers starter Michael Fulmer, who made his 10th and final limited-innings start coming back after knee and elbow surgeries the last two years.
“That’s what this season was about for him,” McClendon said. “He’s done a really nice job rehabbing at the Major-League level.”
But this isn’t how he wanted his final start of the season to go. Not after throwing three one-hit shutout innings against the Indians in his previous outing. But baseball isn’t a sentimental game.
The Royals came out running and bunting. Merrifield started the game with a bloop single and stole second. Mondesi beat out a well-placed bunt and he, too, stole second.
But both ended up walking home on a three-run homer by Salvador Perez.
Mondesi stole another base later in the game. The Tigers a have thrown out eight of 45 base-stealers on the season, including Alexander’s pick-off.
Fulmer wouldn’t complete his three innings, leaving after allowing three singles and a sacrifice fly in the third. He will finish with an 8.78 ERA in 10 short starts, but what matters more are the 27.2 innings and the 136 batters he faced and the fact that he will go into the off-season healthy.
And, the Tigers hope, without the “limited-innings” tag.