New York — Miguel Cabrera is a slam dunk, first-ballot Hall-of-Famer. He also went into the game Sunday hitting an untenable .125 with three extra-base hits and five RBIs.
This can be a nightmare scenario for a manager, as both Brad Ausmus and Ron Gardenhire can attest from their time managing in Detroit. Do you move him to the bottom of the order? Do you trust the track record?
“Over time in my career I’ve seen some young guys burst on the scene and force their way to the middle of the order and I’ve seen some veteran guys fade away a little bit and not perform at their previous level,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said. “It depends on where you are in your organization’s winning timeline that makes those decisions pressurized.
“But I am very comfortable with him in the middle of our order and the presence that he has. My hope is that he’s going to turn it around offensively.”
This would be a more urgent discussion if the Tigers went into play Sunday 20-8 instead of 8-20. It would also be more urgent if there was anybody producing enough at the plate to warrant supplanting Cabrera.
There is not.
“You have to have a reason to do it,” Hinch said. “And if it is warranted that he needs to move down because there are so many guys performing at a level that needed to be in front of him, then you have to have conversations with all your players. There is great respect for somebody like Miggy.
“You want to optimize your lineup, but right now there’s not that pressure to have those difficult type conversations with him and quite honestly I haven’t. There’s no need for it.”
Cabrera was back in the third hole Sunday. He’s hit third in 11 of the 15 games he’s played and fourth in the others. He might’ve gotten a day off Sunday, except the Tigers were facing Yankees right-hander Corey Kluber, a pitcher Cabrera has punished over the years (.379/.414/.712 with four doubles, six home runs and 13 RBIs).
But it’s been a grind for him since coming off the injured list with the left biceps strain. In six games before Sunday, Cabrera was 3 for 19 with 11 strikeouts. Catching up to fastballs has been an issue for him. Gerrit Cole struck him out twice Friday, and Jameson Taillon got him on elevated fastballs twice Saturday.
He is 4 for 25 with nine strikeouts against fastballs this season.
“Miggy is a key part of our team and our organization,” Hinch said. “It’s tough to see him not get off to the best start. But his presence is needed, as I’ve said time and time again. The results just haven’t been there for him. Given where we’re at and given where I feel his influence can be — we want him to turn it around.
“It’s not difficult for me to put him in the lineup and expect good things.”
Sweet like Candy
That Jeimer Candelario was the Tigers’ player of the month for April was, well, inevitable. There didn’t really need to be a vote. Even with a modest slash-line (.279/.336/.385), he’s been by far the team’s steadiest offensive contributor.
“For me, it’s all about working hard and don’t try to do too much,” said Candelario, who had three hits including a home run Saturday. “Just helping my teammates whenever I can and controlling what I can control.”
The impressive part of Candelario’s start is that he hasn’t taken on the weight of his teammates’ struggles. He hasn’t tried to do more than he’s capable.
“Candy shows up every day ready to play,” Hinch said. “He’s just continued to put up pretty good at-bats.”
He’s had one bad week. He went 4 for 29 with 10 strikeouts between April 16-24. Since then, he’s hit .360 (9 for 25).
“If you look at him when he’s hitting, he’s always nodding his head yes, always into the at-bat, always competing,” Hinch said. “Even if he takes a bad swing or a bad at-bat, I get to see him in the dugout and his reaction is always constructive.
“He just shows up ready to play and he doesn’t carry the good or the bad into the next day.”
That’s a valuable skill in this game, especially on this team.
Willi Castro made another throwing error on Saturday. He struck out four times. His batting average is down to .191. Things are in avalanche mode for him right now.
“We’ve really thrown a lot at Willi,” said Hinch, who gave Castro the day off Sunday. “I think both things are impacting the other — the defensive grind has taken a toll on his offense and his hitting has taken a toll on his defense.”
Hinch is taking playing shortstop off his plate for now. Castro is primarily a second baseman and Hinch wants him to settle in there.
“We’re trying to find some consistency for him,” Hinch said. “He’s going to hit down in the order some, but we’re going to stick with him. We’re going to hang with him. He didn’t hit last season by accident. He can come out of this quickly.”
Around the horn
Hinch said outfielder Nomar Mazara (abdominal strain) will begin a rehab assignment at Triple-A Toledo beginning Tuesday. The plan is for him to play two games — one as a DH and the other in right field — and then give him a day off. The length of his rehab stint will depend on how the abdomen responds. It’s possible he could rejoin the Tigers for the Royals series at Comerica Park May 11-13.
… Lefty reliever Derek Holland, coming off a couple of rough outings, pitched a scoreless eighth inning Saturday, getting two tough right-handed hitters in D.J. LeMahieu (Birmingham Brother Rice) and Aaron Judge. “What’s been different since spring training has been his conviction in his fastball,” Hinch said. “It has been leaking back over the plate. But he was nailing the inside fastball again to LeMahieu and Judge. I think he needed to see that more than I needed to see it. He needs the confidence to execute his pitches and get after it.”