July 27, 2014 at 8:47 pm

Angels 2, Tigers 1

Miguel Cabrera still showing strain from surgery as woeful-hitting Tigers drop third straight

Anaheim, Calif. — Slap down a .309 batting average, 16 home runs, 81 RBIs, and a .895 OPS in 101 games and you have the makings of a satisfied mid-order, big-league hitter.

But few who have watched him swing a bat these past 10 years have suggested Miguel Cabrera is mortal. He typically has much bigger numbers. And he generally displays much better at-bats than he has been putting together heading into July’s final days.

“He’s scuffling a little bit right now,” said Tigers manager Brad Ausmus after the Tigers were squelched for the third consecutive game in Sunday’s 2-1 loss to the Angels at Angel Stadium of Anaheim.

“I think he’s been a little frustrated all year. Post-surgery – everything’s not in sync. I think surgery is the root cause of it. It can take time. I think there are side effects from all of that.”

Cabrera was at half-gear for the final months of the 2013 season due to abdominal issues that after last year’s playoffs were diagnosed as a sports hernia. He had surgery in Philadelphia and was officially listed as healed and at full-throttle when the Tigers convened for spring camp in Lakeland, Florida.

But this has not been vintage Cabrera the Tigers have been serving in 2014. Compare his statistics to 2013, when, even after the hernia slowed him so noticeably in the season’s final two months, Cabrera still won the American League Most Valuable Player trophy and his third consecutive batting championship.

He batted .340, with league-best numbers for on-base percentage (.442), and slugging (.636). He had 44 home runs last season, even when he hit only one of those 44 after Aug. 26, as the yet-undiagnosed hernia all but shackled his lower body.

Cabrera has been good, but he has been less than his normal supernatural self in 2014. His OPS, is nearly 200 points beneath what it was in 2010 (1.042), 2011 (1.033), and 2013 (1.078). It is nearly 150 points lower than it was in 2012 (.999).

Sunday’s game was in line with a surprising number of Cabrera’s outings in 2014. He struck out twice, grounded out to third, and had a fly-out to right field.

He also wanted no part of discussions afterward about his hitting or his health. When approached about his relative struggles in 2014, Cabrera cut off a question by turning his back and heading for the shower. He said not a word.

Although infinitely less of an affliction than he was fighting a year ago, Cabrera is still dealing with natural aspects of his recovery, said Kevin Rand, the Tigers’ head athletic trainer.

“Miguel’s still putting everything together for himself,” Rand said after Sunday’s game. “As far as the lower half of his body, he really didn’t have a chance (he had surgery in November) to get as strong as normal ahead of this season.

“Is he fine? Yes. That’s why he’s playing. I think we’re seeing him get better and I think you saw it the other night with that ball he hit at Arizona (a drive off the center-field balcony).

“It’s a grind for these guys. So, what I’m seeing is not unexpected. I think when you watch him take batting practice or go through his game preparations, you’ll see that he’s getting better and better.”

It is also apparent that Cabrera, at times, takes swings that in no way resemble the smooth, disciplined fury that was his batting trademark before the abdominal tear and recuperation became part of new realities for the Tigers first baseman.

Cabrera has already struck out 70 times in 388 at-bats in 2014. His strikeout numbers from the past four seasons: 94, 98, 89, and 95 in these quantities of at-bats: 555, 622, 572, 548. The data is a remarkable testament to how differently he is swinging — and missing — in 2014.

It might also have been asked after Sunday’s game, in which the Tigers got all of three hits, what exactly is ailing the rest of the Tigers order. Surgery hasn’t been an issue with other Tigers hitters. But their performance has been abysmal, at least in three consecutive losses to the Angels that saw the Tigers score all of two runs.

“Teams go through this,” Ausmus said. “Teams go through slumps.”

They can also snap out of them in an instant. That was particularly the case during those summers when Cabrera was hitting .330 or better, with his 30-plus home runs and with his celestial knack for changing a game, often with one swing.

But those moments are less frequent in 2014. Those moments might, in fact, have become more occasional, at least until a man who is still healing from last year’s abdominal trauma can swing with his old ferocity and freedom.



'He's scuffling a little bit right now,' said Tigers manager Brad Ausmus of slugger Miguel Cabrera. / Jae C. Hong / Associated Press