'It makes our team better': AJ Hinch open to playing Miguel Cabrera at first base

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
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Detroit – You could almost feel Ron Gardenhire and Brad Ausmus flinching Wednesday when new Tigers skipper AJ Hinch started talking about using Miguel Cabrera at first base.

“I’d like him to play first base certainly for part of the games,” Hinch said in a national Zoom conference. “I don’t know what the allotment is going to be in terms of how much he plays first base and how much he DH’s. But I think freeing up the DH spot is important.”

Tigers' Miguel Cabrera makes a throw during infield practice at Detroit Tigers Summer Camp at Comerica Park in July.

Oh boy. Certainly Ausmus and Gardenhire felt the same way, but playing Cabrera at first base and keeping him healthy have become mutually exclusive concepts in recent years. Cabrera, who is entering his age-38 season, made it clear at the end of last season that he wants to play in the field in 2021.

“I miss a lot playing first base,” he said. “I hope they can give me more time to play first. I need to be in the field. I’m learning to be a DH right now, but it’s hard for me to go hit and go sit and just think about what I’m going to do for the next at-bat.

“In the past I would hit, then forget about hitting and play defense. It was a very different game to me. Now I am learning to be a DH but at the same time, I want to spend a little more time at first base next year. Hopefully I can do that.”

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His ability to play defense is not the issue. He’s always been a solid defender, be it at first base or third base. The issue is the chronic pain in his right knee that has bothered him on and off the last three years.

“Obviously, keeping Miggy on the field and keeping him healthy is a priority,” Hinch said. “We have to make sure he’s healthy and can handle the first base position a certain amount of games a week.”

Last offseason Cabrera made dramatic changes to his nutrition, strength and conditioning programs and shed a lot of weight ahead of the 2020 season. The weight loss took some of the pressure off the knee and he made it through a relatively productive 57 games (10 home runs, 35 RBIs).

The jury is still out on how the knee will respond over a full season. Still, Hinch isn’t shutting the door on Cabrera playing first base.

“It makes our team better,” he said. “It allows me to move Candy (Jeimer Candelario) around. It allows me to move Niko (Goodrum) around. And it allows us to get Miggy on the field and playing baseball the way he’s always played it – enjoying both sides of the field.

“The more first base he can play and stay healthy, the better our team can be.”

Ausmus and Gardenhire, no doubt, wish him luck with that.

As interim manager Lloyd McClendon put it last September, “I wouldn’t put anything past (Cabrera). But the most important thing we always have in mind is making sure we keep Miggy healthy and in a position to play on a daily basis. And to this point, playing first base would hinder that and be a grind for him.”

Twitter @cmccosky

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