Cleveland — AJ Hinch doesn’t mind answering questions day after day about Miguel Cabrera’s quest for 500 home runs. He’s into this as much as anybody. But he wonders sometimes if people forget that his main job is preparing his team to, in this case, beat the Cleveland Indians.
“Not to downplay it, but coming to the ballpark today, I didn’t think about 500 home runs,” the Tigers skipper said Friday. “I’ll think about it when he hits 499 and he’s in the on-deck circle. But we can’t play the rest of the games wondering if today is the day.
“Our mindset has to be to go out and beat the Indians. The byproduct of that is we get to sit here and witness history with a future Hall of Famer accomplishing some numbers and being talked about among the greatest names in the history of our game.”
The Tigers went into the series trailing the second-place Indians by 1½ games in the Central Division. Even though Hinch’s mantra all season has been to win today’s game, and a more pressing goal would be to get back to .500, he does see some value in climbing the standings.
“One of the things we want to do is continue to move up the food chain,” he said. “And we have to go through Cleveland to do that. The White Sox are the best team in our division and you want to keep chiseling away at trying to be one of the best teams, if not the best team, in the division.
“We could pass them in a couple of days, but it will be short-lived if you don’t keep playing good baseball.”
About the only additional stress, if you can even call it stress, that Cabrera’s milestone chase is putting on Hinch is trying to decide when to give the 38-year-old a day off. Tentatively, Hinch might rest him Sunday, a day game after a night game Saturday.
But, if he’s at 499, if the Tigers need a win to claim the series — all bets are off.
“We are going to remember this for the rest of our careers,” Hinch said. “So we have to balance the here and now against making every day about that chase. Miggy doesn’t want that attention, even though he’s going to get it regardless.”
Make no mistake, Hinch and the Tigers are all in this with Cabrera.
“We’re watching history right before our eyes and we all need to appreciate it,” Hinch said. “I don’t care if you are home watching it on television or if you are in the ballpark. You will always remember the day Miggy conquered a big number.”
Last Sunday, an error by Willi Castro led to three unearned runs in a 5-2 loss to the Orioles. What doesn’t kill you can make you stronger.
Castro rebounded with perhaps his best all-around game of the season in Thursday’s win against the Red Sox. He got two hits and was robbed of a third by a diving catch by left fielder Alex Verdugo. On the bases, he went first to third on shallow single to left field, running right in Verdugo’s face, setting up another run.
And, not for nothing, he made a spectacular defensive play, ranging to the shortstop side of second base and making a bullet throw to first to steal a hit from Kevin Plawecki.
“Just keep putting one foot in front of the other,” Hinch said. “I’m not going to label his season as anything until we get through the entire season. He is an important player for us. He has to keep trying to figure it out.”
Hinch said he’s been pleased with the work Castro has put in at second base and the positive adjustments he’s made defensively. Hinch pointed to three pop flies that Castro ran down with the Tigers were deployed in extreme shifts as an example of Castro’s growth.
“You look at his offensive profile and he chases too much and has too much swing-and-miss for the skills he has and for the hitter he can be,” Hinch said. “The bottom line for Willi to be a bona fide hitter we can rely on is to home in on the strike zone and get away from that chase rate. That really eats into the quality of a lot of his at-bats.”
Around the horn
Niko Goodrum (calf) could rejoin the Tigers Tuesday in Baltimore. Hinch said Goodrum was scheduled to finish up his rehab work with Triple-A Toledo in Nashville Friday and Saturday. Then if there are no setbacks, he could be activated for the Orioles series.
“He’s healthy now,” Hinch said. “We’re just trying to get him enough at-bats and reps.”
… Tigers lefty Matthew Boyd (elbow) is expected to throw a live batting practice session in Lakeland Sunday. Isaac Paredes will likely be one of the hitters. The other could be Tigers’ second-round pick Izaac Pacheco, a left-handed hitter.
… Right-handed starter Jose Urena (groin strain) threw off the mound at Progressive Field Friday for the first time since he went on the injured list. Hinch said he just threw lightly. He will need to throw off the mound a couple more times before the Tigers decide where to send him to face live pitching — with the Mud Hens or to Lakeland. Best case scenario would have Urena ready to be activated in early September.
… Outfielder Daz Cameron had another setback in his attempt to come back from a toe injury. He rolled his ankle while working out with the Mud Hens. Hinch said he would be shut down for a couple of days.
… Tigers catching prospect Dillon Dingler was placed on the seven-day IL at Double-A Erie with a fractured finger on his left hand.
Tigers at Indians
► First pitch: 7:10 p.m. Saturday, Progressive Field, Cleveland
► TV/radio: BSD/97.1
► LHP Tyler Alexander (1-1, 4.77), Tigers: This will be his fifth consecutive start and he’s not gone beyond four innings yet. But his recent trouble spot has been the first inning. He’s given up six first-inning runs in his last two starts. But he hung in and limited damage after that in both starts. His career-best 32% chase rate is in the top 13 percentile in baseball.
► RHP Eli Morgan (1-3, 6.75), Indians: After the Tigers got four runs off him in a loss on June 28, he’s allowed three runs or less in his last four starts. He’s had good success working his change-up and slider off a 90-mph four-seamer. He’s getting a 30% swing-and-miss rate with both secondary pitches. His 42-6 strikeout-to-walk mark in 37⅓ innings doesn’t hurt either.