May 19, 2014 at 9:11 pm

Terry Foster

Tigers' Victor Martinez more than able as Miguel Cabrera's new wing man

Detroit — Miguel Cabrera admits he misses the handshakes and the salt and pepper routine with former teammate Prince Fielder, now with the Rangers.

“He was my friend,” Cabrera said. “He was my teammate. He was close to me and we got to be pals. But it does not matter right now.”

That’s because in Fielder’s place — at least in the batting order — is Victor Martinez. And, Martinez is enjoying his best season with the Tigers, hitting .331 with 10 home runs and 25 RBIs. His on-base percentage of .378 surpasses Fielder — and Cabrera.

In other words, he has been the best hitter for the Tigers.

“You can hit Victor anywhere, I don’t think it would matter,” Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. “I don’t know if they (Cabrera and Martinez) play off each other, but Victor’s energy is definitely infectious in the lineup, on the field and in the clubhouse. He has that kind of intensity.”

Fielder, by the way, hit .279 with 25 home runs and 106 RBIs last season in the fourth spot. He’s sitting at .247 with three home runs and 16 RBIs, although injuries have been an issue in Texas.

Pain in the neck

The Tigers needed power and production behind Cabrera, and Fielder wasn’t going to provide that.

There was too much pressure on Fielder in Detroit, and fans were on his case after his playoff failures a second consecutive postseason — .196 average with one home run and three RBIs.

The boos bothered Fielder. You could see it in his performance.

Now, there might have been a legitimate excuse.

Fielder might not play this week against the Tigers after he was diagnosed with a herniated disk in his neck. There is speculation the neck bothered him last season.

The Rangers, however, are more understanding than Tigers fans would have been. The Rangers are telling Fielder to get healthy — this is, after all, not his fault.

That would not have played in a must-win now atmosphere in Detroit.

Perfect protector

Still, Cabrera fondly remembers his friendship with Fielder, and remains somewhat loyal to the first baseman.

“I had some great years with Prince behind me and some great games with Victor, too,” Cabrera said. “I have to do it on my own. It does not matter who is behind you. You still have to be patient and make things happen.”

Cabrera got off to a slow start, which led to speculation he missed Fielder.

But he’s has hit .458 his last seven games with a .481 OBP. And with Martinez right behind him, things are only going to get better.

“He is one of the best hitters I have ever seen in my life,” Cabrera said of Martinez. “He does not take anything for granted.”

He is, frankly, the perfect wing man for Cabrera.

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Detroit Tigers' Victor Martinez points upward after hitting a solo home run off Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Corey Kluber in the second inning Monday. / Tony Dejak / Associated Press