Detroit – The saga continues.
Miguel Cabrera was not in the Detroit Tigers’ lineup Sunday, unable to play after his lower back stiffened in the fourth inning Saturday night.
Cabrera’s back has been a source of pain, discomfort and frustration for him and the Tigers all season. It started back in March during the World Baseball Classic and has continued off and on for seven months.
Although the Tigers haven’t talked about the specifics of the injury – referring to it as chronic back pain – Cabrera has treated it with anti-inflammatory medication and chiropractic and physical therapy all season.
His production has suffered. He’s put up career-lows in average (.248), on-base percentage (.329), slugging (.402), OPS (.731), home runs (16) and RBIs (60). Yet, he’s been adamant about fighting through and finishing the season.
“You have to tip your cap to Miggy,” catcher James McCann said. “This is something he’s been battling. I mean, he’s a guy I’ve admired since I was a kid and being around him, just his grit and tenacity – he wants to go out and perform, even if he’s not 100 percent.
“He’d say that God has blessed him with the ability to play this game and he’s going to do everything he can until he’s just not physically capable of performing. It’s tough to see, one of your main guys going through something like this.”
Manager Brad Ausmus, who dealt with similar back issues the final 10 years of his 18-year playing career, was asked Sunday why the club hasn’t simply shut Cabrera down.
“What is it with people who think you should just sit guys at the end of the year if you are out of (contention)?” he said. “These guys are paid to do a job. I just don’t get that.”
The situation would be different if Cabrera was putting himself at risk by continuing to play. That isn’t the case. His situation is more about pain management. Most days, he feels well enough to play. Obviously, it has reached a point these last two days where he couldn’t.
“How is (shutting him down now) going to help him?” Ausmus said. “He’s about to get four months off. He needs four months and two weeks off? Come on. Baseball players are paid to play baseball. If they are physically able to play, they play.
“This is going to be an issue the rest of his career; maybe we should sit him for the next seven years just so his back doesn’t hurt him. I went through the same thing – it’s called chronic for a reason.”
Cabrera told Ausmus last week he plans to add more core strengthening exercises to his offseason workout regimen. He wants to strengthen the muscles around the vertebra, hoping that will alleviate some of the discomfort. Surgery has not been discussed to this point.
Ausmus’ back issues stemmed from a bulging disc. Ultimately a piece of the disc broke off and dropped onto the nerves. Though he doesn’t know for sure, he believes Cabrera’s pain also stems from a bulging disc.
“This is just my guess, but this is what I had when I was in my 30s,” Ausmus said. “The disc bulges into the space where the nerves come down from the spinal cord, and it puts pressure on the nerves that run down your leg.
“Depending on where it hits – what vertebrae and what disc it’s at – you might get sciatic pain, butt pain, calf pain.”
Cabrera has talked of the pain radiating from his lower back, through his hips and down his leg. It’s made it difficult for him to use his lower body to generate power in his swing.
Ausmus eventually had micro-discectomy surgery in 2010, his final season as a player. He said it took a couple of years for the nerve damage to be fully healed.
“Miggy has always tried to play through nagging injuries,” Ausmus said. “He’s had a few more this year and the back has flared up more frequently. But this is something he’s going to have to deal with.”
The Tigers didn’t say whether any tests were taken on Cabrera’s back Saturday night or Sunday morning. For now, they are listing his availability as day to day.