Cabrera's power soars; relearns to hit with healthy legs

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Detroit  — There are few in the game as astute on the subject of hitting as Miguel Cabrera.

He’s especially adept at understanding what a pitcher is trying to do against him within an at-bat. The adjustments he makes from pitch to pitch and at-bat to at-bat are a constant source of wonder and amazement to other hitters across baseball.

But when it comes to talking analytically about his own swing mechanics, well, he’d rather not.

“I mean, I’m feeling good,” he said before the game Saturday. “I’ve been trying for most of the season with no results. This game is about results.”

The results have been flooding in the last six games — four home runs, eight RBIs, .458 batting average, 1.523 OPS. He hit two home runs in the 7-5 loss Friday night, one to right and one measured at 431 feet off the camera well in center.

He also hit another ball 390-plus feet that was caught in right center. 

“He’s starting to look like the real Miggy again,” manager Brad Ausmus said.

It’s been a couple of years since Miggy’s been Miggy. Sure, he won his fourth batting title last season, but his 18 home runs and .519 slugging percentage were career lows for a full season.

The power shortage has been an organizational concern going back to 2014, when he finished the season on a broken ankle and foot that would require major surgery. He hit just three homers in the month of July and August that year.

Last year, first coming back off the surgery and then missing six weeks with a calf injury, he hit just three home runs from Aug. 4 through the end of the season. He was essentially hitting without his legs for two years, relying on his supreme hand-eye coordination and upper body strength to carry him through. 

Now, 156 at-bats into his first season with two strong, healthy legs since 2013, he’s starting to drive the ball with authority again.

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He has, for all intents and purposes, had to relearn his swing mechanics with healthy and strong legs.
“I would say that’s a truthful statement," hitting coach  Wally Joyner said. "For two years he didn't have them (his legs). Getting them to work together again — the upper body and the lower body and feeling comfortable about it. We hope that continues.”
Joyner said through spring training and into the first six weeks of the season, Cabrera was generating too much power with his legs.
“He didn’t know what to do with it, he couldn’t harness it,” Joyner said. “He felt too good. Now, it looks pretty good.”
There is a delicate synchronicity to a baseball swing — loading up the power onto the back leg, transferring the weight to the front leg in concert with the upper body, hands and eyes. Cabrera hit for two years with minimal contributions from his lower body.
It's natural that it would take time for the parts to all work together and in proper rhythm.
“The first part was being able to get his strength back in his legs,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “The second part is relearning how to use his legs — remembering and getting back to the way he was and the way he hit prior to the injuries.”
Going back to spring training, it’s been a three-and-a-half month process for Cabrera.
“Just reps, feel, duplication — finding it and keeping it,” Joyner said, describing the process. “A lot of guys find it and want to do more. They find it and think, ‘Ah, there’s more in there.’
“These guys at this level have plenty. It’s just a matter of staying consistent with it and taking it into every at-bat.”
The ball is flying off his bat again. In these last six games, he’s home runs to left, center and right field. He posted his 35th multi-homer game Friday, 26 with the Tigers. Only Hank Greenberg (32) and Cecil Fielder (29) have more. 
Cabrera, though, doesn’t want to clutter his mind with swing mechanics. Asked if the recent power surge was the result of him relearning how to hit with the full use of powerful and healthy legs, he just shrugged.
“Maybe,” he said. “Who knows? You just have to keep working. You try to be in the right spot, have the right swing, see strikes and do everything right. I hope it to keep it that way.”
Twitter: @cmccosky