Detroit — Miguel Cabrera played in his 126th game of the season Monday. He’s made 43 starts at first base. At the beginning of the season, most would’ve bet the under on those thresholds. But at age 38, Cabrera just keeps chugging along.
Give manager AJ Hinch, head athletic trainer Doug Teter and the rest of the Tigers’ training staff a hat-tip for Cabrera’s endurance, too. Hinch has prepared a weekly schedule for Cabrera, strategically building in off days, usually next to team off-days to give him a two-day break. The only time he’s had to stray from the set plan was during Cabrera’s quest for 500 home runs, when he penciled him into the lineup every day until he hit it.
“Knock on wood, but there really were only one or two stints where physically he wasn’t able to do his part,” Hinch said before the game Monday. “He’s responded really well to our scheduling. I’ve played him enough at first base, probably more than people might’ve imagined. I wanted to play him in all the home games, I want Tigers fans to see him.
“Physically he’s in a good place, which puts him in a good place mentally.”
Producing also puts him in a good place mentally, and since the All-Star break, Cabrera has been one of the steadiest hitters on the team, slashing .286/.346/.452 with a .799 OPS. He’s hit nine doubles, eight home runs and knocked in 43 runs.
His 75 RBIs are second most on the team and his 118 hits are fourth most.
“He’s had to grind,” Hinch said. “It’s not been easy for him. Especially day games, with the preparation that goes on for him to be able to go out and play. It’s been really good and the production has been really nice with numbers changing on the board. It’s really been cool.
“I’m proud of him.”
Only the trainers and doctors fully know what Cabrera has to go through daily to stay in the lineup. It’s not the kind of information they make public.
“It’s every day and it’s a couple of hours getting him ready to play,” Hinch said. “Especially for day games, that’s why playing him at first base in day games is tough. That’s probably not going to happen for the rest of his career.
“But he won’t want me to talk about what he needs to do to play. He just shows up, smiles and plays. It’s not like old-school, show up an hour and a half before the game, eat breakfast, get in the cage and go play. It’s a pretty rigorous process.”
Cabrera went into the game Monday 16 hits shy of 3,000 for his career and four doubles short of 600. Hinch said he learned his lesson from the 500-homer chase. He’ll hit those marks when he hits them. He still plans to give him a couple of days off on the season-ending trip to Minneapolis and Chicago.
“I told him if he had nine straight hits in him again, he can play out the string,” Hinch joked.
Told the Tigers open next season on the road, Hinch just shook his head.
“I’m not sitting him for that first road trip,” he said. “Breaking news.”
Hinch and the Tigers coaching staff was very encouraged by rookie Isaac Paredes’ ground-rule double in the ninth inning Sunday. And not just because it was a clutch, two-strike knock that put the Tigers in position to tie the game — which they didn’t do.
They were encouraged because he turned on an inside pitch and pulled it hard down the left-field line.
“He’s showing more pull power and that’s going to be important for him,” Hinch said. “Teams have pounded him in early in the season and he kept trying to fight the ball off to center or right-center. Now he’s pulling the ball with authority.”
According to Statcast, his hardest-hit balls have come on pitches in the heart of the plate. His heat map shows zero barreled balls on pitches on the inner half of the plate. He has hit a couple of balls hard that were up and in.
“Isaac doesn’t even know who he is yet at this level,” Hinch said. “But I’ve been happy with some of the adjustments he’s made.”
Commissioner for a day
Hall-of-Famer Jack Morris asked Hinch before the game how he might improve the game if he were commissioner for a day.
“Whatever it takes to have 30 teams trying to win has to happen,” he said. “I think there is nothing like playoff-chase baseball. Not every team can be in it in September whether you are trying or not. But we have to get our sport to where 30 markets have a chance, 30 markets have that burning in their stomachs to put a product on the field to try to win.”
How might he do that?
“Whether it’s expanding the playoffs, whether that’s raising the bar on the (salary) minimums — I’m not smart enough to know what it takes to get there,” he said. “But I know when you watch these playoff races and watch what goes on this month, it shows what winning baseball can do for an entire industry.”
Around the horn
Hinch said there is a chance the Tigers might take an extra pitcher on the taxi squad for the series in Chicago. Both Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal will make their final starts of 2021 in Minneapolis. So extra relievers will be needed in those games. “We will see how the pitching shapes up after the Twins series,” he said.
On deck: Twins
► Series: Three games at Target Field, Minneapolis
► First pitch: All three games — 7:40 p.m.
► TV/radio: All three games — BSD/97.1 FM
► Probables: Tuesday — LHP Tyler Alexander (2-3, 4.10) vs. TBA; Wednesday — RHP Casey Mize (7-8, 3.63) vs. RHP Michael Pineda (8-8, 3.73); Thursday — LHP Tarik Skubal (8-12, 4.13) vs. RHP Joe Ryan (2-1, 2.45).
► Alexander, Tigers: With both Spencer Turnbull and Matthew Boyd going down, and Julio Teheran and Jose Urena also, Alexander has ended up being a vital workhorse for the Tigers. This will be his 40th outing and 14th start. His 94.1 innings is fourth most on the team.
► TBA, Twins