Cabrera says he'll be ready for Opening Day

The Detroit News
Miguel Cabrera gets in his first at-bat of spring training on Sunday against the Nationals. He struck out swinging.

Lakeland, Fla. – Batting third, the designated hitter, Miguel Cabrera.

It was a public address announcement fans at Joker Marchant Stadium have waited all spring to hear. A few of them even stood and applauded as Cabrera stepped to the box for his first Grapefruit League at-bat.

Cabrera was happy about it himself. Well, sort of.

"Not too excited the first two at-bats, but it was good, he said. "First two at-bats, not too excited. Third at-bat, very good. I got a hit."

Cabrera struck out on sliders away from starter A.J. Cole his first two times up in the Tigers' 7-7 tie with the Nationals Sunday. In his third at-bat, off left-hander Matt Thornton, Cabrera rapped a 3-2 fastball into left center for a single.

"After his first two strikeouts he said he was hitting like me," manager Brad Ausmus said. "He said, 'I was hitting like Brad.' I said, 'Not true, I would have made contact.' But he got a hit and it was the first step."

There are still two weeks left in spring training and both Cabrera and designated hitter Victor Martinez, who was hitless in three at-bats in the split-squad game in Orlando, have hurdles to clear before the Tigers can pencil them into the starting lineup Opening Day.

But Cabrera is optimistic.

"I mean, if my foot is OK, I am going to be ready," he said. "I think my foot and my ankle, they are going to tell me if I am ready to play Opening Day."

Pressed on how confident he is that he'll be ready, Cabrera said, "I am positive we're going to be there. Possibly, they (doctors) told me, I'm going to be there. Hopefully, we can be 100 percent. Hopefully, we can be with our team the first day of the season."

Ausmus said the chances that Cabrera would be in the lineup Opening Day were "better than 50 percent." He would not give the same odds on Martinez because he didn't see his at-bats Sunday.

"He's got to get enough at-bats," Ausmus said when asked why just even odds. "Let's say there are 14 games left (there are 12). He can't play every single game. So let's say he plays nine games and gets three at-bats per game. Twenty-seven at-bats aren't a lot of at-bats.

"Assuming there are no injury risks, there's not many people I'd rather have in the lineup than Victor and Miggy. But we have to make sure, and we haven't got there yet, that Miggy can play first base."

Cabrera joked that he had been on vacation the first month and a half of spring training.

"Now I am back to work," he said. "I see the ball OK, but I don't see it like I want to. I see it too fast right now. When they throw off-speed I am too jumpy."

That's precisely what happened his first two at-bats. Cole did a good job of setting up his slow slider with hard fastballs inside. Cabrera was kicking himself for missing the fastballs.

"I missed a couple of balls my first at-bat, I missed a couple of pitches," Cabrera said. "When you play at Major League level, you can miss pitches. But when they throw it right down the middle, the pitcher misses his spot, you've got to hit it. That's what it's about. You have to hit mistakes."

Cabrera is scheduled to be the designated hitter again on Tuesday in Tampa. If that goes well, he expects to start at first base on Wednesday. Ausmus, though, said that might be too soon.

"It's so vague with these injuries," Ausmus said. "Miggy says he's fine and he looks fine, then you put him out there and he reinjures himself. All of a sudden it's, 'Well, you should have known.' Well, how would be know?

"And if you go the other route and take it slow and stretch it out, then it's, 'Why in the heck hasn't he been playing?'"

Ausmus said they have to continue to check off the hurdles, hitting in the cage, hitting on the field, hitting against live pitching, running, fielding, extending his range, base running, sliding, etc.

"You try to cross all the Ts and dot all the Is, but the truth is, it's an inexact science," he said. "Right now Miggy looks good. He says he feels good. But I can't guarantee he'll be ready for Opening Day. The main thing is, we want to have him for as much of the season as possible."