After Cabrera's poor game, watch out

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News

Anaheim, Calif. — Anytime he has so much as a one-game dip from his normal superhuman ways, Miguel Cabrera becomes news, of sorts.

Tigers Nation wonders if everything is all right. The thought no doubt crossed a few minds Wednesday at Oakland when Cabrera struck out three times and grounded out softly in four at-bats.

To put into short-term perspective how unusual was an 0-for-4 day for Cabrera, let alone one with three strikeouts, Cabrera's 13-game hitting streak crashed, sending his batting average "plummeting" all the way to .333 — 13 points above his career average of .320.

Still, it was the first time in 2015 he had struck out more than twice in a game and only the third time in the last two seasons he had three or more whiffs.

Tigers manager Brad Ausmus was asked if Wednesday's tough day and a 1-for-8 road trip might have anything to do with an ankle Ausmus had described earlier in the week as "cranky." It was a factor in Ausmus giving Cabrera a break in the road trip's first game, Monday at Oakland.

"I think there's probably some residuals, just because of the surgery," Ausmus said Thursday as the Tigers got ready to play the Angels in the first of a four-game series at Angel Stadium of Anaheim.

"Like anything, it bothers a guy more when it's cold out, or a storm's coming. It doesn't feel great, overall.

"But he moves well — way better than he did a year ago."

Cabrera brushes off all questions about his health, as he did in 2014 when the ankle steadily became an issue, leading doctors to wonder at the end of the season how he had managed to perform with a foot so damaged.

His numbers remain spectacular in 2015, even after tough back-to-back games and the trio of strikeouts on Wednesday that Ausmus explained concisely.

"I think his timing was a little off (Wednesday)," the manager said.

Along with his .333 batting average, which was sixth-best among all American League hitters entering Thursday, Cabrera had 11 home runs, tied with Angels superman Mike Trout for fifth in the league.

He was leading the league in on-base percentage (.436), was third in slugging percentage (.591) and had a gaudy OPS of 1.027.

So, any suspicion that Cabrera might, 48 games into the spring and at age 32, be feeling effects from the ankle or any other physiological reality, wasn't based in statistical reality as the Tigers got ready for a long weekend series against a team they so often have had trouble beating on the West Coast.

Cabrera was at his usual station Thursday, first base, and will almost always play there rather than work at designated hitter — an option Ausmus could consider on one of those days when weather or wear and tear is nipping at his ankle.

But the skipper will avoid using Cabrera in a batting-only role.

"He really doesn't like DHing," Ausmus said. "He finds that it's more beneficial playing first. It keeps it loose."

Ausmus can tell that Cabrera has recovered from last year's miseries and November's serious surgery every time he sees a classic Cabrera swing. Which is most of the time.

"Overall," Ausmus said, "the key when he's right is that he keeps his weight back over that ankle."

Nothing much has changed in the manner that pitchers work against him, which invariably means dealing carefully. That's particularly true now that Victor Martinez is gone from the Tigers lineup, allowing pitchers to walk Cabrera, intentionally or unintentionally.

The Tigers at least made the A's regret purposely putting Cabrera on base Wednesday with a walk that brought to bat Yoenis Cespedes, who has moved into the cleanup spot in Ausmus' lineup.

Cespedes launched a three-run homer over the left-field wall that gave the Tigers all the runs they were to get, and all the runs necessary, in a 3-2 victory over the A's.

It was strategy the Angels were preparing to mull as the Tigers — and Cabrera — arrived Thursday.

When you're talking about the Tigers' No. 3 slugger, a 1-for-8 spell is generally followed by something a bit truer to form.