Detroit Tigers manager AJ Hinch will ‘trust the process’ with slumping Miguel Cabrera

Detroit Free Press

If there were a reason to move Miguel Cabrera down in the batting order, Detroit Tigers manager AJ Hinch wouldn’t hesitate to have the conversation.

But the Tigers (8-21) have lost 14 of their past 16 games because of offensive shortcomings. After Jeimer Candelario’s .278 batting average, the next best everyday player is Wilson Ramos at .218, Niko Goodrum and rookie Akil Baddoo at .203, and Robbie Grossman at .196. The numbers only get worse.

While Cabrera is going through a slump with his .115 batting average, so is almost everyone else.

That’s why Hinch has no plans to demote the 19-year MLB veteran.

“If it ever warranted that he needed to move down because you have so many guys that are performing at a level that need to be in front of him, then you have to have conversations along the way with all of your players,” Hinch said before Sunday’s 2-0 loss in New York. “There is great respect that comes with somebody like Miggy, and you want to optimize your lineup, but right now, there’s not that pressure to have those types of difficult conversations.

“There’s no need right now to talk about it.”

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Through 15 games, Cabrera is 6-for-52 with two home runs, five RBIs, five walks and 19 strikeouts. He missed 14 days, from April 11-24, on the 10-day injured list with a mild left biceps strain that began nagging him after Opening Day.

But Cabrera, 38, said he is healthy again, so better results should be expected.

In Saturday’s 6-4 loss to the New York Yankees — the Tigers’ fourth loss in a row — Cabrera struck out on an elevated 94 mph fastball with two outs and the bases loaded in the fifth inning. He also went down swinging on a similar elevated fastball in the fourth inning amid his 0-for-5 performance.

Cabrera is 0-for-17 with 10 strikeouts in his past five games.

Since the 2017 season, the former two-time American League MVP is hitting .262 in a 375-game span, launching 43 home runs and recording 181 RBIs, with 153 walks to 313 strikeouts.

“Obviously, Miggy is a key part of our team and a key part of our organization,” Hinch said. “It’s tough to see him not get off to the best start. For him, his presence is needed, but the results haven’t been there for him. We want him to turn it around like we want our entire team to turn it around. It’s not just a Miggy issue.

“But it’s not difficult for me to put him in the lineup, expect good things. To see the work that he’s put in, he’s obviously pretty frustrated and hasn’t really produced yet. It doesn’t mean today can’t be the first start of a nice little run. … You trust the process and hopefully things start to turn for him.”

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As a team, the Tigers have a league-worst .195 batting average and 305 strikeouts in 29 games.

“Stay positive,” Cabrera said Wednesday. “It’s a long season.”

One example of Cabrera’s presence is noticeable through his interactions with Candelario. Since Candelario arrived in a 2017 trade with the Chicago Cubs, the 27-year-old has latched onto the future Hall of Famer.

“With this group of players, everybody turns to Miggy,” Hinch said. “We talk about the influence behind the scenes, but we want Miggy to take care of himself. We want him to get himself right and be more productive, but he’s never shy to help out the younger players.”

[ How Jeimer Candelario is carrying empty Tigers offense through losses ]

Besides his .279 batting average, Candelario owns a team-high five doubles, two home runs, eight RBIs, nine walks and 27 strikeouts. His .336 on-base percentage is second to Grossman’s .360 mark. 

In the dugout, Hinch said Candelario is one of the most “lively” players. In spring training, Hinch noticed his third baseman enjoys bantering with teammates to ease the tension and sharing in-depth baseball conversations.

An always-energized Candelario soaks up as much knowledge as he can.

And he gives advice to those in need.

“That must have come from Miggy’s influence,” Hinch said.

Sticking with Willi

Another player struggling is 24-year-old Willi Castro. The Tigers hope he can be a key piece of the future, so this is an important season to cement his status as an everyday player. He opened the season at shortstop, but his defensive struggles when throwing the ball became too much of a problem, so the team is confining him to second base.

Offensively, the results are just as bad.

Castro has a .191 batting average with one home run, five RBIs, five walks and 29 strikeouts. During his past four games, he is 0-for-13 with two walks and eight strikeouts. On Saturday, he went 0-for-4 with one walk and four strikeouts — on three of those strikeouts, he only saw three pitches.

“We’re going to hang with him,” Hinch said. “He didn’t just hit last season by accident. We do feel like it was a bad month. He can come out of it very quickly. He plays hard. He shows up every day. He’s doing a lot of work at second base. We’re trying to isolate that for him now. Hopefully, the hitting will bounce back getting one position playing time at second base.”

FOR SUBSCRIBERS: Tigers’ Willi Castro will play some second base. Here’s why

Last season, Castro tied for fourth place in AL Rookie of the Year voting by logging a .349 batting average, six home runs and 24 RBIs, with seven walks to 38 strikeouts, in 36 games. In 2019, he hit .230 across 30 games.

Injury update

Outfielder Nomar Mazara (left abdominal strain) is starting his rehabilitation assignment Tuesday with Triple-A Toledo, as the Mud Hens begin their regular season at 6:35 p.m. against the Nashville Sounds, the Triple-A affiliate for the Milwaukee Brewers.

Right-hander Matt Manning is starting Opening Day for Toledo.

“I believe he’s going to play a couple days in a row and have a day off,” Hinch said about Mazara. “I think one will be a DH day, one will be a right field day. The good news for him is we can insert him into regular games full time. He’s going to be full-go from the get-go and get a couple of games in a row.”

[ Tigers reveal timetable for Nomar Mazara’s return from left abdominal strain ]

Mazara sustained his abdominal injury April 14 while swinging in the fourth inning against the Houston Astros. He was placed on the 10-day injured list April 15 and went to the Tigers’ spring training facility in Lakeland, Florida, to start his rehab.

The Tigers will evaluate Mazara over the weekend. He seems lined up for a potential May 11 return to the big-league club, if he avoids a setback. Through 12 games, he hit .237 with two homers and five RBIs.

“We’ll see how he’s swinging the bat, how his abdomen is responding to game action,” Hinch said. “That’s encouraging. Hopefully, he’s working his way back.”

Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzoldRead more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.

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