Detroit Tigers’ plan to determine Miguel Cabrera’s injury return, fill his hole in lineup

Detroit Free Press

Detroit Tigers veteran Miguel Cabrera had been dealing with soreness in his biceps, but the status of his health came to a breaking point in Saturday’s 11-3 loss to Cleveland at Progressive Field.

Cabrera grabbed his left arm in pain after fouling away a seventh-inning changeup from Aaron Civale. He finished the at-bat by grounding out to third base.

“It’s in the belly of his biceps,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said Sunday. “When it grabbed him again — and watching him swing with two hands and not being able to finish his natural one-handed swing — I told him last night after the game, ‘I don’t want to keep fighting it.'”

[ Tigers place Miguel Cabrera on IL, add Renato Nunez to 40-man roster ]

Cabrera remained in the game at first base until the ninth inning, when JaCoby Jones pinch-hit for him.

“He wasn’t in a tremendous amount of pain,” Hinch said.

On Sunday, the Tigers placed Cabrera on the 10-day injured list with a left biceps strain. Hinch wants to “nip this pretty early,” sending the oldest player on his roster to undergo tests with team doctors in Cleveland to determine the severity of the injury.

“Then we’ll know a little bit more about how long this might be,” Hinch said. “We’ve got to find some answers as to why it was hindering his confidence and his comfort. Obviously, I’m concerned when you put a guy on the injured list like this, but I’m not a doctor. I don’t know how to diagnose it, other than to give him some rest opportunities and have our doctors tell me what they think after a further and deeper evaluation.”

[ Why Miguel Cabrera is boosted by playing first base, seeing fans in the stands ]

After Cabrera’s uncomfortable approach against Civale, he altered his swing to compensate for the pain, which sent Hinch “over the edge to have him not battle through soreness” any longer. 

Cabrera is hitting 3-for-24 (.125) this season with one double, one home run, three RBIs, three walks and four strikeouts. Chasing career milestones, he is 131 hits away from No. 3,000 and 12 home runs away from No. 500.

Since 2018, Cabrera owns a .273 batting average, 26 home runs and 119 RBIs in 238 games.

Hinch has used Cabrera at first base in four of his seven games this season. Leading up to the 2021 campaign, Cabrera hadn’t played first base since June 18, 2019, because of a chronic right knee problem. He spent 2020 as the full-time designated hitter and stayed healthy but pleaded to return to his old position.

Despite the increased potential for an injury, considering Cabrera’s age and recent health troubles, Hinch granted his wish.

“It’s really nice being back at first after almost two years,” Cabrera said on Opening Day. “Hopefully, I can be there more times because I love to play first base. We’ll see what’s going to happen.”

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The Tigers added first baseman Renato Nunez to the 40-man roster in light of Cabrera’s injury. To make room for Nunez, right-hander Julio Teheran was transferred to the 60-day injured list.Teheran — after missing Friday’s start — initially went on the 10-day injured list Saturday, but Hinch said he will miss “quite a few starts” with a right shoulder sprain.

Hinch isn’t sure if or when Teheran, 30, will return to the starting rotation after his stint on the injured list concludes. He gave up one run through five innings in his first start but won’t pitch again for at least two months.

“That’s not comfortable, knowing that he’s going to be out that long,” Hinch said. “Definitely will get him checked out. He’s got to see a number of doctors and get a bunch of tests. But I have no idea what happens (after).”

Nunez, 27, has always struggled defensively at first base, but Hinch plans to grant him “quite a bit of playing time” in the infield. After serving as the designated hitter Sunday, he is likely to start the next two games — against the Houston Astros — at first base.

“We face some lefties coming up Oakland, and in a predominately right-handed lineup, I may DH somebody else,” Hinch said. “I’m not sure how to handle that series, but I expect him to play a fair amount there.”

[ Tigers’ Renato Nunez hungry to become ‘everyday first baseman’ ]

In the 2019 and 2020 seasons for the Baltimore Orioles, Nunez logged 43 homers and 121 RBIs, with a .247 batting average, in 203 games. In spring training, he went 6-for-32 (.188) with one homer, three RBIs, zero walks and 13 strikeouts.

While Nunez should provide a significant power boost to the Tigers’ lineup, he got cut from the team as a non-roster invitee because of his defense. Hinch has opted for a revolving door of first basemen. 

That’s why one of Nunez’s goals is to showcase immense improvements at first base, and now he gets an opportunity to put his defense — and slugging — on display for his new organization. If he does well, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him stick around, even after Cabrera returns.

“I really want to become an everyday first baseman,” Nunez said Saturday. “That’s something I have on my mind. That’s my goal, and that’s what I’ve been working on. Working a lot on my defense, and I want to feel a lot more comfortable at first base than I was in spring training.”

Newcomers to taxi squad

With Nunez and right-hander Alex Lange joining the 26-man roster because of injuries, the Tigers added infielder Zack Short and righty reliever Joe Jimenez to the taxi squad, which also includes right-handers Kyle Funkhouser and Erasmo Ramirez and catcher Dustin Garneau.

“Not going to be at the game today,” Hinch said. “They’re going to be on the plane to Houston tonight with us.”

The Tigers acquired Short at the 2020 trade deadline from the Chicago Cubs in exchange for outfielder Cameron Maybin. This spring, the 25-year-old went 5-for-19 (.263) with one homer, four RBIs, five walks and seven strikeouts.

Jimenez opened the 2020 season as the Tigers’ closer, but he got cut and sent to the alternate training site in Toledo just before this year’s spring training concluded.

Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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