May 5, 2013 at 1:00 am

Lynn Henning

If only Miguel Cabrera got to play at old Tiger Stadium ...

Houston — Notes, thoughts and items as the Tigers shoot for a series sweep of the Astros:

Imagining what Miguel Cabrera might have done at Tiger Stadium.

This came up during batting practice Saturday at Minute Maid Park. Cabrera was feeling particularly limber and was putting on a show, driving a couple of pitches above and beyond the sheer beige arches in deep left field and out of the stadium.

He mentioned how he enjoyed hitting at this ballpark, at all National League parks, and wondered, in his irresistible accent: "Why did they make Comerica Park so beeeeeg?"

The fact is, when Comerica was built, it was the belief of then-executives John McHale and Randy Smith that a big ballfield would help a wobbly franchise, at the time constrained by payroll, to lure free-agent pitchers.

Cabrera shrugged, flashed a tight grin, and said about Comerica: "At least you get doubles."

But he was intrigued by the park's predecessor, Tiger Stadium. He knows it was revered. He knows it was intimate. He does not, and cannot, comprehend what demolition he might have carried out had a man of his strength and opposite-field prowess spent 81 games a season attacking pitches at a hitter's paradise on Michigan and Trumbull.

But it's an entertaining thought. A gut feeling is it would have added an easy five to 10 home runs a season and even more luster to numbers that already are overwhelming.

And with that conversation completed, Cabrera played a ballgame Saturday, parking two home runs and a pair of singles in the 17-2 victory. When you're as good as Cabrera, you love hitting in any ballpark.

Take a long, hard look at the Tigers-Nationals series this week in Washington, D.C.

These were the two teams ahead of Opening Day that seemed like your best bets to play in this year's World Series.

It's a percentage bet that neither will make it, but whoever knocks off the Tigers and Nationals will have pulled quite the coup against two teams as loaded as these clubs.

The guy to watch Tuesday is Nationals right-hander Jordan Zimmermann. He was dynamite when the Tigers saw him in Florida. And in these early days of May, he might be the best pitcher in the National League, if not in all of baseball.

Anibal Sanchez gets to duel Zimmermann. This will be a postseason-caliber game five months before the postseason's heavy punching begins.

Doug Fister will be favored the next night to beat Dan Haren, at least as far as pitching matchups go. Fister's challenge is handling that artillery unit in manager Davey Johnson's lineup: Bryce Harper, Adam LaRoche, Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman, etc.

Of course, the Nationals also are a tad uncomfortable with thoughts of Cabrera, Prince Fielder, Austin Jackson, Torii Hunter, Victor Martinez, et al, descending on Nationals Park.

Which is why these two games are going to be worth watching, intently. Restless channel-flipping or social-media interludes will be strongly discouraged.

Who next arrives from the minors to patch a Tigers roster hole?

Injuries are anyone's guess. The Tigers have been fortunate in 2013. Octavio Dotel is on the disabled list with a sore elbow, and Phil Coke is healing from a groin strain, but the Tigers have sidestepped serious stuff. No starting pitchers, no regulars, have been shelved.

Performances can dictate changes, as they did last week when Brayan Villarreal and Bruce Rondon returned to Triple A Toledo for some fine-tuning that gave Jose Ortega and Luke Putkonen a chance to find a home on manager Jim Leyland's relief staff.

Rondon is the more immediate developmental question because of his potential and because of his earlier status as the team's supposed closer.

The Tigers probably gave him too much credit. He soared through the minors a year ago, pitching well at their three most advanced stops, and then again in winter ball, where the crowds are big and the competition is good.

But what the Tigers saw in Rondon's spring stint was a kid who needs time. Significant time. Perhaps deep into the summer when, depending upon how life evolves in Detroit, he could find his way back to Comerica Park.

It will not be with the repertoire he unsheathed this spring. He will have a slider he can throw in alternate sequences for strikes. He will work on the two-seam fastball he was throwing at Toledo before he was summoned last month. And it would not be surprising if Rondon is introduced to the split-finger fastball during his Mud Hens apprenticeship.

Rondon remains raw. So raw, the Tigers won't make the mistake they made in expecting him to win a job in spring camp. He will come back when those other pitches are refined. And that, from what we saw this spring, will be a while.

lynn.henning@detroitnews.com

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It's fun to imagine what playing in the tighter confines of Tigers Stadium would do to Miguel Cabrera's home-run totals. / Bob Levey/Getty Images
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