Cabrera opens up on back pain: 'It was my choice to play'

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Kansas City, Mo. — Don’t shut him down for the season, just yet.

Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera is seeking a second opinion on his back problems.

Miguel Cabrera, speaking at length for the first time about the back, hip and leg pain that’s derailed his season, hasn’t ruled out playing again before the season ends Sunday.

“If I feel good, I’ll play,” he said. “I’d like to play. It’s why I am here right now. Because if I get the chance to go out and be with the team, you’ve got to do it. We’ve got these young guys here and you want to go out and try to win with these guys.”

Cabrera, diagnosed on Sunday with two herniated discs in his back, is still waiting on a second opinion. He expects to get that second opinion on Monday from a specialist in Miami.

“I hope I can take care of this in the offseason, come back next year and try to play every day,” he said.

He said the doctors have told him he will need to do six weeks of rehabilitation before he can start doing any baseball activity. The rehabilitation work will focus on increasing his flexibility, strengthening his core muscles, especially those along the vertebra — essentially making the lower back, hips and core as strong and stable as possible.

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He was adamantly opposed, however, to getting an epidural injection.

“I don’t want to get an injection because I don’t want to put a Band-Aid on my injury,” he said. “I can’t just put a Band-Aid on it and say I don’t have the injury now. There is no reason to do that.

“Let’s workout, do the therapy and the physical training and see where we are. If I need the injection next year if it’s bothering me again, then I will take it. But now, no. There is no reason to do it.”

His worry is the injection, much like a cortisone shot, will allow him to play through the injury but it won’t treat or fix the injury.

“I need to feel it,” he said. “I don’t need to not feel anything. I can’t go out there and feel OK for a little while and then have it return the same way.”

The herniation, or bulging, is in the L3-L4 and L4-L5 spinal discs. Cabrera said he damaged the back early in spring training lifting too much weight.

“You guys know it’s been bothering me the whole year,” he said. “At some points I feel good. Some points I feel I can’t go anymore. Some points they have to take me out. This is something that’s never happened in my career.

“I need to change a lot of things in the off-season and try to come back in better shape.”

Once he gets through the six weeks of rehab and therapy, the doctors told him he could maintain his normal weight. He’d lost as much as 30 pounds this season, hoping it would take some of the stress off his back.

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It didn’t happen.

He also was adamant it was his choice to continue to play.

“It was my choice to go out and play,” he said. “I lifted too heavy and felt something, but I didn’t think it was a big deal. So I kept playing with that – that’s just the way I am. I never want to stop.

“But I have to be smarter about the weights and take better care of myself.”

He called this season a “nightmare.” He’s endured career-lows in average (.249), slugging (.399), home runs (16) and RBIs (60). He said his trying to compensate for the back and hip pain caused him to alter both his swing and his ability to see the baseball.

“I can’t get the explosion from my legs,” he said. “And then when I swing, I lose the ball. My contact point, my eye comes off and I lose the contact point. Because everything (the momentum of his swing) goes back.”

In essence, to drive through the ball with his lower body and use his normal hip turn caused him great pain. So, to compensate, he started swings more with his arms and pulling his body backward.

“Everything goes back(ward),” he said. “I lean back and then I can’t see the ball. There’s no way you are going to hit like that. This year, I strike out a lot on bad swings and at a lot of pitches out of the strike zone.

“The good thing is, I know what I am doing wrong. Part of it is physical. But a lot is mental, too. You are thinking more about the injury than the adjustments you’ve got to make.”

Cabrera understands the Tigers have gone into a rebuilding mode. He said he’s eager to be one of the leadership pillars of the move.

“We have to show these guys the way we have to play to win games,” he said. “We have to show them how you go out and play hard and take care of your business. And how you have to be a professional and try to win as many games as we can.”

Asked if he would like to delete the 2017 season from his memory, he said no.

“We’ve got to learn from this,” he said. “This season has given me nightmares. But I need to sit back and think about it and learn from it. 
See what I do bad and what I can do better to have a better season next year.”

He was asked if he wanted a voice in selecting the next manager.

“That’s the GM’s job and the owner’s job,” he said. “They are the boss. They know what we need and what it’s going to take. Our job is to play baseball.”

Twitter: @cmccosky