On the brink of 3K, Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera relaxed, reflective, emotional

Detroit News

Detroit — As he was about to make history Thursday, Miguel Cabrera was thinking about the future — the Tigers’ future.

It was three hours before game time and Cabrera was nestled into his corner space in the Tigers’ clubhouse holding court on numerous topics, not all of them related to his pursuit of 3,000 hits.

“When I came to Detroit, we were a good team,” he said. “We were always a good team, always in the playoffs. We need to win here again. And we’ve got some really good young guys here.”

He was talking about Riley Greene and Spencer Torkelson, the Tigers’ top two prospects.

“It’s too bad Riley got hurt,” Cabrera said of Greene’s broken foot. “He was our best hitter in spring. I don’t care they are 20 or 21, those guys are good.”

Cabrera said he was especially impressed with Torkelson’s advanced plate discipline, his patience and ability to lay off close pitches.

“Torkelson, his approach — woah,” he said. “He’s getting more comfortable, more comfortable, more comfortable. When he gets comfortable like that, he’s going to be dangerous.”

Cabrera said most of his family would be at the game Thursday, though not his father, who is back in Venezuela.

“I’m mad at him,” Cabrera said, jokingly. “He called me last night and said that last at-bat he was like, eyes closed. He couldn’t handle it. I was like, ‘Why?’ He said, ‘Too much pressure.’ I said, ‘I was the one hitting, calm down.’”

Cabrera said he better understands his father’s anxiety now that he’s had to sit and watch his son Christopher play.

“When my kids play, I never relax,” he said. “You can control it when you are playing. You strike out or whatever, you still control the game. When you are in the stands, you’re more nervous.”

Christopher Cabrera has been getting on his pops about his boring, traditional home run trots.

“He wants me to pimp it and act crazy,” Cabrera said, laughing. “I say no. He hits a home run and he’s doing all this stuff. I’m like, ‘What are you doing?’ I ask him where he gets that? And he says from (Braves star Ronald) Acuna.

“He wants me to do a bat flip or something. I tell him I can’t do that.”

Cabrera, too, was asked if reaching 3,000 hits against the Yankees meant something to him. It does.

“When I signed (out of Venezuela), a scout from the Yankees say, ‘If you are going to make it to the big leagues, you have to be a pitcher,’” Cabrera said. “They fired him. True story.”

Tears welled in Cabrera’s eyes when it was brought to his attention that only two other players in Tigers’ history amassed 3,000 hits — Ty Cobb and Al Kaline.

“I miss him,” he said of Kaline. “We talked about hitting. He would always ask me when I get two strikes, why I try to shorten my swing. He wanted me to keep hitting it to the gaps, that I wasn’t fast enough. But I told him, no, I want to put the ball in play. We talked about that all the time.”

Keeping it present

One message Tigers’ manager AJ Hinch reiterated to his players on the eve of Cabrera’s historic moment was to cherish this.

“We have no idea whether we will see it again,” he said. “It is really hard to be present and see this kind of greatness and be part of a moment like this. We will celebrate accordingly.”

To see Cabrera Thursday morning, relaxed, reflective, emotional but completely at ease, even surrounded by a large group of media was quite a contrast from the sometimes surely, often injured Cabrera circa 2019, 2020.

“I just feel better, my knee isn’t hurting as much,” Cabrera said. “I’m in a good position.”

And as he’s embarked on these historical milestones last year and this, it’s almost served as a reminder to fans and some in the media of his greatness. You don’t hear as much about the bloated backend of his contract these days.

“Great players, historical players, Hall-of-Fame type players, we view them through a lens where they are in their prime through their entire career,” Hinch said. “And that’s completely unfair. I’ve never met a 39-year-old who is the same as he was at 29 — except maybe Tom Brady in football.

“In our sport, the aging curve is real and players have to adapt their game. It’s hard to keep up the same pace as when you were at your peak. Miggy realizes what he needs to do to play every day. He’s settling in nicely to where he’s at in his career and what he means to this organization and to this game.”

Around the horn

Hinch still wasn’t ready to name a starting pitcher for the game Saturday against Colorado. He said all options were still open, either using somebody out of the bullpen or calling up someone from Toledo.

chris.mccosky@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @cmccosky

Rockies at Tigers

Series: Three games at Comerica Park, Detroit

First pitch: Friday — 7:10 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday — 1:10 p.m.

TV/radio: Friday-Sunday — BSD/97.1

Probables: Friday —  RHP Antonio Senzatela (1-0, 2.16) vs LHP Tarik Skubal (0-1, 3.72); Saturday —  LHP Austin Gomber (0-1, 7.00) vs. TBA; Sunday —  RHP Chad Kuhl (1-0, 0.87) vs. LHP Tyler Alexander (0-1, 4.26).

Scouting report

Senzatela, Rockies: Signed to a five-year, $50.5 million deal after last season, he’s on a slow-ramp into the season. He’s only pitched eight innings so far. But when he’s right, he’s a ground ball-inducing machine with his heavy 94-mph four-seamer and slider mix. Thirty-five of the 38 hitters he’s faced have put the ball in play against him this year.

Skubal, Tigers: He’s coming off a dynamic performance in Kansas City. Throwing a wicked slider 35 times off four-seam and two-seam fastballs that were hitting 97 mph, Skubal retired the first 11 batters and allowed just one unearned run in 5.2 inning with seven strikeouts.

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