Trimmer Cabrera works toward being '100 percent'

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Lakeland, Fla. — It was more effective than three shots of espresso.

Shortly after 8 a.m. on a foggy, sleepy Monday morning, Miguel Cabrera barged through the clubhouse door at Tigertown — ramping up the energy level immediately.

"I was a little surprised to see him," manager Brad Ausmus said. "We were waiting on the special treadmill (the AlterG, which will arrive Tuesday and be ready for Cabrera to use Wednesday). But it is good to see him. He looks good, he's walking around good, he stayed in shape."

Cabrera, recovering from ankle surgery, was cleared for non-contact baseball activity last week. He had been doing as much conditioning and upper body work as he could before that. He is limited to hitting and throwing for now.

Still, Ausmus was right: He did look fit, trimmer even than he did at the end of last season.

"He stayed in shape the whole time," Ausmus said. "He was sending me pictures. He wasn't sitting on the couch eating Cheetos."

Cabrera, after greeting teammates and coaches, lifted weights and took swings in the cage. He won't be allowed to do any field work for at least another week, maybe more.

"When I take care of my ankle, I want to be 100 percent," Cabrera said. "I feel better. I feel my ankle is strong. I'm just going to try and keep working and be 100 percent."

Cabrera said he was surprised to hear reports about how little conditioning he could do post-surgery. He said he was able to do quite a bit.

"I always do a lot with my legs, just no weight," he said. "Just (being) more flexible, more working on strength. My exercises I was doing more repetitions, low weight-high rep. But I was doing a lot of things. They were saying I couldn't do anything but I was able to do a lot.

"The only thing I couldn't do was run on the field or run bases. I didn't put a lot of pressure on my feet like running, jumping or that kind of stuff."

The doctors and the Tigers were surprised after the season when in addition to finding bone spurs in the ankle, they also found a broken bone. Cabrera, who despite the injury was American League player of the month in September, was not surprised in the least.

"No, I was feeling a lot of pain," he said. "I knew something was wrong."

Ausmus and president and general manager Dave Dombrowski have expressed concern that Cabrera might try to rush his recovery. Cabrera said Monday that won't be a problem; he understands the consequences.

"I feel a lot better and I want to play, but I don't want to feel no pain," he said. "I don't want to feel no issues like last year. Hopefully I can be healthy for a full season."

Which is why he would not commit to being ready to play opening day, though that certainly is his goal.

"I don't know," he said. "Who knows? Everybody, the team, me, I want to be ready for opening day. But you don't know what's going to happen. It's too early to say."

He has been hitting in the cages since he was cleared last week. He said again on Monday that he felt no pain. He was asked how many at-bats he felt he would need this spring to be ready.

"Everybody says you need 80 to 100 at-bats to get ready but normally I would say 50 or 60," he said. "It depends on how you are feeling. It doesn't matter how many swings you take or how many at-bats you get in spring training. When you step in the box in April it's a different feeling. It's different because you are going to play a whole game and not four or five innings."

Cabrera said he had to drastically alter, not only his swing, but his hitting approach because of the ankle pain last year. The pain was in his back foot. Trying to check or pull his swing back was painful. Once he loaded up, he usually had to release the swing — which helps explains why he seemed swing at more pitches outside the strike zone than usual.

"When you have issues with your body and you've got those kind of problems, you've got to change your swing," he said. "You've got to make adjustments and try to find a way to produce. You have to expand the zone more. You can't have the same approach. You can't wait for the right pitch. You expand the zone and just try to produce."

Asked if it would take him longer to get his natural swing back, Cabrera just smiled.

"No," he said. "When everything is right with your body, you don't worry about how good your mechanics are. I think everything is just natural because you are practicing every day."

The best news for Cabrera was that he was back in a baseball routine and back with his teammates.

"I think the hard part is over," he said. "I was three months unable to walk and unable to do anything. That time is over. Right now I do what I like, I am in the cage, hit, try to prepare myself to be ready when the time comes. You've got to be patient. That kind of injury, you've got to be patient."