June 9, 2014 at 1:00 am

Sore hamstring forces Tigers' Miguel Cabrera to DH role for Monday's game

Miguel Cabrera singles in the sixth inning Sunday night, but he left the game after reaching base. (Detroit News / Elizabeth Conley)

Chicago — He’s never liked it. He’s never really responded well to being used there.

But if the only way Miguel Cabrera is able to play, as was the case Monday night against the Chicago White Sox, is as the Tigers’ designated hitter, then guess what: He’s going to be their designated hitter.

“As long as there are no unforeseen issues,” manager Brad Ausmus said, referring Cabrera being the DH because of the left hamstring condition that knocked him out of Sunday night’s game against Boston in the sixth inning.

Cabrera adjusted well to the situation, hitting a solo homer in the fourth inning Monday to cut Chicago’s lead to 2-1.

But if you ever wondered if Cabrera’s future could be as a DH, you might want to withhold it as an out-loud question — for several years.

Cabrera likes playing positions.

From 2003-2005 for the Marlins, he played some left and also some right field.

The Tigers, of course, have used him primarily at first and third, and he’s played well at both.

But it probably can be said that he’s undergone his last position switch.

In any case, after leaving Sunday night’s game with a hamstring problem — not really a cramp, not really a strain, but enough to force him out of a close game all the same — Cabrera was the Tigers’ DH on Monday night against the White Sox.

Victor Martinez, of course, welcomed the news that he was going to be a position player for the opener of the series. Martinez is always that way when he’s told he is playing a position instead of just hitting.

“Victor and Rajai Davis are the two most excited people about being in the lineup,” Ausmus said.

Martinez has adjusted well to being the Tigers’ designated hitter, though. He works hard at it, using the time between at-bats productively instead of dwelling on the lack of activity.

Martinez manufactures activity.

But Cabrera serves as the Tigers’ DH so seldom that it never feels anything but unusual to him. The most at-bats he’s ever had in a season as a DH were the 28 he had in 2012.

“As a DH, there’s a lot of dead time in between,” said Ausmus, “but the training staff is going to make sure he’s stretching and moving between at-bats — whether it’s on the bike or on the table getting stretched.

“But he probably won’t be stealing many bases tonight.”

Of what Cabrera’s condition is specifically, Ausmus said, “I’m not sure how I would classify it.

“It doesn’t seem to be a strain. It sounds like a tightening in the hamstring tissue.”

Of how long Cabrera might have to DH, it’s strictly on a day-to-day basis, meaning the Tigers will re-evaluate it today.

“He had a similar thing against Texas (on May 25),” said Ausmus, “and played the next day. So we’ll just have to see how it goes.

Cabrera has made adjustments at DH through the years, though.

For instance, he went into Monday night’s game hitting .283 in 53 at-bats as a DH in the last three years. Before that, he was a .230 hitter (23-for-100) as a DH.

Maybe his career has reached a point where he’s going to hit no matter what — whether he likes his role for a particular game or he doesn’t.

His earlier inability to hit as a DH might have been like the .206 he was hitting on April 21. Give it time, and it will change.

The .206 Cabrera hit in his first 16 games this season certainly changed.

He went into Monday night’s game hitting .372 in the 43 games since — proving it was merely a matter of time before the stats corrected themselves.

Adjusting to DH might also be correcting itself — which is good news for the Tigers because with 22 DH at-bats for the year going into Monday night’s game, Cabrera is on a pace to get 60 for the year — which would far outdistance anything he’s had before.

It’s not a huge chunk of his playing time — about 10 percent of his projected at-bats — but enough to reduce a batting average by several percentage points if the past were to repeat.

In 2008, for instance, hitting .174 in 23 at-bats as the Tigers’ DH cost Cabrera’s batting average six points. He hit .292 overall that year, but .298 as a position player.

In 2011 — when he won his first American League’s batting title, anyway — hitting .192 in 26 at-bats as the Tigers’ DH cost Cabrera’s batting average eight points.

He ended up hitting .344, but as a position player that year, he hit .352.

So it’s not anything the Tigers want too much a taste of. But for the time being, it’s the way to keep Cabrera in the lineup.

tom.gage@detroitnews.com

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