Niyo: Tigers enjoy a long-overdue hitting explosion

John Niyo
The Detroit News
Miguel Cabrera admires his second home run, in the seventh inning.

Detroit — Keep calm, and carry the fence.

Or just listen to Miguel Cabrera, who can do both about as well — probably better — than any hitter ever to wear a Tigers uniform.

It was Cabrera coolly preaching calm Wednesday, reminding his teammates there was nothing to change from their approach the last few games, even after another fitful night at the plate.

"To be honest with you," Cabrera said, "I think we need a little luck."

And as luck would have it, the Twins were in town for one more game. A day game, no less. And that combination, which seems to bring out the best in Cabrera and his teammates this spring, worked again Thursday as the Tigers' offense finally broke out in a big way.

The Tigers pounded out a season-high 20 hits, including four home runs — equaling their total in the previous 12 games combined — on their way to a 13-1 rout of the Twins before a crowd of 31,785 at Comerica Park.

"We've been kind of waiting for this," manager Brad Ausmus said. "I think everybody has — players, coaching staff, fans."

Opponents, too, actually, with ex-teammate Torii Hunter among those promising an offensive explosion was coming.

That it came against his Twins wasn't a surprise, either. All three of the Tigers' double-digit outbursts this season have come against Minnesota. All three have come in the daylight as well, and for whatever reason, the Tigers' are matinee idols this spring, averaging 6.3 runs in day games compared to 2.5 runs at night.

"There's stats for everything," shrugged Ian Kinsler, who had a pair of extra-base hits Thursday, including a leadoff double in the sixth that first-base coach Omar Vizquel thought was a homer initially. "I mean, I don't know what our record is this side of the Mississippi, but it's probably pretty good."

It's 17-11, in case anyone cares. But more important, the Tigers (21-14) are now 18-10 against Central Division opponents as they hit the road for an interleague interlude before a two-week stretch against the AL West.

Tigers 'really battling'

Kinsler called it "a good start," which it is. And while no one in the Tigers clubhouse was too keen on calling this recent stretch a slump, which it was, or declaring it ended, which it may not be, the underlying message really is the same.

"We have to be patient," Cabrera said again Thursday, after he'd belted home runs in consecutive at-bats in the sixth and seventh innings.

Both of them came on 1-2 pitches, which is nothing new for a two-time MVP and three-time batting champ who is now just two homers shy of 400 for his career.

But it's something the rest of the lineup has spent the last week focusing on. And Thursday, with Victor Martinez getting a long-overdue rest on the bench — and he'll get an extended break with the Tigers heading to a National League park next — the Tigers' hitters were finally rewarded for their patience.

"They're really battling with two strikes, as opposed to waving at balls," Ausmus said of his lineup, which had scored a total of seven runs the last four games. "They're fighting it. They're fighting off pitches that maybe they can't square up, and hoping that a mistake is made on the next pitch. They've done a better job the last few games of really not giving away that third strike."

He saw it with Cabrera's at-bats again Thursday. Ditto Kinsler, who just might be this team's MVP through the first 35 games, as well as his leadoff man, Anthony Gose, who had his first career four-hit game.

Others join the fun

But he's finally seeing it from his No. 5 hitter, J.D. Martinez, who added two hits and has reached base in 10 of his last 19 at-bats — a welcome sight after all those whiffs on the Tigers' last road trip.

And also from Nick Castellanos, who drilled an opposite-field shot into the seats leading off the fifth — his first homer since April 24 — then probably had the game's best at-bat an inning later. He quickly fell behind 0-2 against lefty reliever Brian Duensing, but Castellanos worked the count full and then fouled off three straight pitches before finishing with a 10-pitch walk.

Still, for Castellanos, batting just .179 in his last 15 games, this was less about breaking through and more about refusing to break down. Same goes for his teammates, who'd scored two runs or fewer in nine of their last 14 games, and 16 of their last 27 after a blistering opening week to start the season.

"Our job is just to weather the storm, until we feel good as a team, just like we did today," Castellanos said.

"The longer the storm, the longer you have to weather it. But every storm only has so much rain, you know?"

He paused, and realizing he'd just gone deep again — philosophically — he laughed, "That's a Torii Hunter line right there."

Hey, with linescores like this, it's easy to crack a smile.

Heady company

Miguel Cabrera's two home runs Thursday give him 398 in his career, 260 with the Tigers. He is within two of becoming the 52nd player to reach 400. Players in Cabrera's home run neighborhood:

Duke Snider, 407

Al Kaline, 399

Adrian Beltre, 399

Andres Galarraga, 399

Miguel Cabrera, 398

Dale Murphy, 398

Joe Carter, 396