Detroit Tigers manager A.J. Hinch: Miguel Cabrera can earn ‘extra games’ with performance

Detroit Free Press

Miguel Cabrera is determined to finish out the final year of his MLB career.

The 40-year-old, one of the best right-handed hitters in baseball history, is hitting .189 with six walks and 18 strikeouts across 21 games. His playing time, as expected, has decreased significantly over the last three seasons. So far, the Detroit Tigers have limited Cabrera to 80 plate appearances through their first 40 games.

That puts Cabrera on pace for 324 plate appearances this season.

“I think about it every series because I want to keep him a part of this and he wants to be a part of this,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said Wednesday, before Cabrera’s second straight start as the designated hitter. “He gets to play back-to-back days, which any player will tell you gets his rhythm and timing a little bit better.”

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Cabrera, earning $32 million this season, has started back-to-back days four times: April 1-2 against the Tampa Bay Rays, April 24-25 against the Milwaukee Brewers, May 7-8 against the St. Louis Cardinals and Cleveland Guardians, and Tuesday and Wednesday against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Hinch has closely monitored Cabrera’s workload to keep him healthy, as well as communicated his plan in advance to the future Hall of Famer, in his three seasons as the manager.

In Tuesday’s 4-0 win, Cabrera finished 1-for-3 with one walk and two strikeouts. After the eighth-inning single, Hinch removed Cabrera from the game for pinch-runner Jake Rogers.

“I feel for him,” Hinch said. “At the same time that he’s getting older and not quite the same hitter as he was in his prime, I’m asking him to play less and create more timing issues for him by playing once a series.”

His 30 wRC+ ranks 280th among 284 hitters with at least 80 plate appearances, ahead of only Nick Gordon (Minnesota Twins), Aledmys Diaz (Oakland Athletics), Jackie Bradley Jr. (Kansas City Royals) and David Hensley (Houston Astros).

The performances of players like Andy Ibáñez, virtually an everyday player since joining the Tigers from Triple-A Toledo on April 29, and Zach McKinstry, the leadoff hitter against right-handed pitchers, have cut into Cabrera’s playing time.

If Cabrera wants more playing time, Hinch said he has to earn the opportunities based on his results.

“We’re going series by series,” Hinch said. “I know he’s going to start on Saturday in Washington. We’re facing Patrick Corbin. That’s a natural start. We’ll see what happens next week. I think we might have a lefty in Kansas City. There’s been some natural games for him (to start). The extra games are going to have to be earned just like everybody else.”

A message to the fans

After Tuesday’s 4-0 win, Hinch received a question about the fans of teams in Detroit. The Pistons, of course, dropped to the No. 5 overall pick — revealed in Tuesday’s NBA draft lottery — for the upcoming draft despite their 17-65 record.

The Pistons, and their fans, were left disappointed.

“We need to always remember how good of a fan base the Detroit fans are, really across all sports, and especially the Tigers,” Hinch said. “They’re waiting for the next really good team, and we want to earn their respect, earn their attendance and play the brand of baseball that makes this city proud.”

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The Tigers, meanwhile, have a 19-21 record for second place in the American League Central. Only four teams have a better record than the Tigers (17-12) since April 13: Baltimore Orioles (21-9), Los Angeles Dodgers (20-10), Tampa Bay Rays (20-11) and Texas Rangers (19-11).

“We know this city is going to respond,” Hinch said. “We’re aware of how great of an opportunity we have. We tip our caps to everybody that does come out. For those watching at home, we’re going to keep earning your respect to come out. This is a fun team. Fun personality team, fun performance team right now. We’ve got to keep working hard, but we know what’s at the end of this when we get everybody on board.”

Center fielder Riley Greene reflected on the first 40 games of the season. The 22-year-old has hit safely in 16 of his past 18 games, and during that stretch, he is hitting .375 with one home run, five walks and 16 strikeouts.

The Tigers are 9-4 in May.

“This team is incredible,” Greene said. “The energy throughout here, walking into the clubhouse, seeing all the smiles. This team is really good. We can do a lot of really good things. I’m excited for the rest of the season.”

Colt Keith hits for the cycle

Double-A Erie third baseman Colt Keith, arguably the Tigers’ best hitting prospect, finished 6-for-6 with two home runs and seven RBIs in Tuesday’s 18-8 win over Double-A Harrisburg (Washington Nationals).

The 21-year-old also hit for the cycle.

“I got to watch all the at-bats today,” Hinch said. “Bat-to-ball is really good. I think he has feel to hit with secondary (pitches). We saw the power in the spring. That’s quite a night. It takes a week to get six hits, so to do it in nine innings, it’s pretty awesome.”

Contact Evan Petzold at or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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