How Detroit Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera handles ‘a little bit’ of pressure to carry the offense

Detroit Free Press

Miguel Cabrera isn’t sure exactly what happened.

The 38-year-old felt healthy entering Opening Day for his 19th MLB season and 14th with the Detroit Tigers. With full strength on his side — despite numerous injuries in recent years — Cabrera crushed an opposite field home run in the snow in his first at-bat.

Then, Cabrera experienced pain in arm on April 3, the second game of the 2021 campaign. It wasn’t until April 11 that he was placed on the 10-day injured list with a mild left biceps strain. He returned Sunday; the Tigers went 4-9 without him in the lineup.

“I was feeling good, I was like 100%,” Cabrera said Wednesday. “But I felt something the second game of the season. It bothered and bothered me, game by game. We decided to stop, take care of the biceps, come back stronger and try to stay healthy the whole season. It was frustrating for me because, the last five years, I’ve been injured a lot, so it’s not fun to play like that. Not fun at all.”

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The Tigers (8-16 entering Wednesday) are in need of an offensive boost. The struggles during the past two weeks provide an opportunity for the future Hall of Famer to step up in the heart of the batting order. Manager AJ Hinch said he knows Cabrera understands “a lot falls on his shoulders on a young team that’s getting beat up.”

But Cabrera won’t let the pressure overwhelm him.

“A little bit (of pressure),” Cabrera said. “At the same time, if I put a lot of pressure on myself, I’m not going to play good. I try to focus, prepare my mind mentally and physically to go out there. I’m trying to play my best baseball.”

From April 17 through Tuesday (12 games), the Tigers were 71-for-373 (.190) with 25 runs, 21 walks and 121 strikeouts. During this span, they only picked up two wins — a pair of 5-2 victories April 21 in a doubleheader against the Pittsburgh Pirates and Tuesday against the Chicago White Sox, snapping a five-game losing streak.

In the first of a three-game slate with the White Sox, the Tigers went 6-for-34 (.208) with five runs, three walks and nine strikeouts. They were 2-for-3 with runners in scoring position and picked up four of five runs from the homer, including Cabrera’s 445-foot blast in the first inning against Lucas Giolito.

“I was feeling good in first game (back),” Cabrera said. “The second game, I made a couple adjustments and said, ‘You got to let it go’ and tried to swing hard. Make contact and swing hard.”

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Hinch added: “It’s like that kid love for the game. He loves to play baseball. Miggy’s all-in on getting after today’s opponent and figuring it out. He is a big presence. I know he feels better when he’s active and playing. Being on the injured list sucked for him.”

Through 10 games this season, Cabrera is 6-for-35 (.171) with one double, two home runs, five RBIs, five walks and nine strikeouts. Entering Wednesday’s game, for which he was slated to hit third and play first base, he has 2,872 career hits and 489 career homers, putting him 128 hits away from 3,000 and 11 homers away from 500.

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On the all-time home runs leaderboard, Cabrera must jump Fred McGriff and Lou Gehrig — both with 493 — before he reaches 500. On the hits leaderboard, he is creeping up on Babe Ruth (2,873), Rogers Hornsby (2,930), Barry Bonds (2,935) and Frank Robinson (2,935), to name a few of the esteemed players, before he hopes to meet and surpass Roberto Clemente at 3,000 hits.

Cabrera said there was “no chance” the younger version of himself — playing baseball Venezuela as a child and early in his professional career — thought he would wind up in the same conversation as Babe Ruth.

“Never in my life was I thinking I was going to get as many hits as I have right now,” Cabrera said. “I’ve been blessed. I thank God every day for this opportunity. For me and my career, I’ll never take something for granted. I go out there and play. It doesn’t matter how people talk about me, bad or good, I don’t really care. I’m going out there and doing my job.”

As Cabrera chases his milestones, he is hungry to get back to winning baseball.

“Miggy’s tired of getting beat,” Hinch said. “He’s tired of losing and tired of developing guys around him. He wants guys to step up and do well, as we all do. For him, that consistent love affair with baseball that’s been here is quite refreshing.”

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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