Lakeland, Fla. — Nick Castellanos sent the ball on a high arc to the fence in right field. Miguel Cabrera, on first base after a single, had to hold up to see if the ball would be caught. When it clanged off the fence, Cabrera shoved it into high gear around second and slid, with a spry pop-up slide, safely into third base.
Yep, the big man is feeling better.
“He’s having fun out there,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “He feels good right now and we’re going to keep him feeling good.”
Cabrera rapped out two more hits Friday in the Tigers’ 8-3 exhibition win over the Marlins. His two-run double in the second inning was a vintage at-bat. He got two quick strikes, then fouled off pitch after pitch and worked the count even.
Finally, he got a pitch he could drive and sent it on a screaming line over the center fielders’ head to the base of the wall, 420 feet away.
“Yeah, I feel good,” Cabrera said. “Everything is about results right now. And the results have been good. It’s positive.”
He’s got five hits in 13 at-bats this spring, and his swing seems to be more fluid, more comfortable-looking, with each at-bat.
“I still flinch when he swings,” Gardenhire said with a grin. “Just like I did from the other dugout when I managed against him. He’s a professional hitter. He really steps through it and he works at it.
“He will drive the pitches away (to the opposite field) and you make that mistake inside and his bat is so quick through the zone — you change speed just a little bit — and that’s when he goes about 100,000 miles the other way (to the pull field).”
If you watch Cabrera’s batting practice swings, he tries to hit every ball to the big part of the field — up the middle and to right field.
“If all of our hitters would take notice of that and watch him, how he patterns out and drives through the ball, they’d all be better hitters,” Gardenhire said. “He has a great plan and that’s why he’s been such a great hitter for such a long time.”
Making an impression
Gardenhire has seen this act before. Niko Goodrum was a highly regarded player in the Twins organization, a second-round draft pick who impressed with his size, speed and skills, but never quite performed consistently enough to crack the big-league roster.
But he is stating his case loudly and impressively for a utility spot with the Tigers.
“He knows he’s got an opportunity to open some eyeballs,” Gardenhire said. “We brought him over here for a reason. There are roster spots open and he knows it, along with a few other guys. And he’s doing what you have to do.
“It’s early in camp and there is still a long way to go, but he’s played well, and he’s played well wherever we’ve put him.”
He played third base Friday. He’s played shortstop, first base and he’s played in the outfield. Most importantly, though, he’s hit. He knocked in three runs with a sacrifice fly and a long two-run home run into the Margaritaville Patio in right field.
He’s got seven hits in 15 at-bats this spring, three doubles and two homers.
“I’ve seen him do this before,” Gardenhire said. “He’s a talented young man and he can do some things. But it’s about being consistent. Hopefully, he will continue this.”
Gardenhire thinks Goodrum might have gotten himself waylaid by the expectations of being such a high draft pick. Perhaps he tried to do too much, perhaps he was hearing too much advice from too many people.
“A lot of people pull you in a lot of different ways,” he said. “They want you to hit home runs. They want you to pull the ball more. All that adds up to a guy getting beat up mentally. Then he doesn’t have the success he’s supposed to be having, and he goes up and down — we’ve seen it a thousand times.”
Goodrum is only 26, not even to his prime years yet. He’s in the utility battle with Alexi Amarista, Ronny Rodriguez, Kody Eaves, Chad Huffman, Jason Krizan and others.
“Right now, he feels good and he knows what he wants to do,” Gardenhire said. “If he can continue this pace and do what he’s doing, he will make it real hard not having him go north with us.”
Around the horn
Left-hander Blaine Hardy (shoulder) did long toss for the first time since taking a cortisone shot earlier in the week. Gardenhire said he is expected to throw again Saturday.
… Francisco Liriano (hamstring) threw his first bullpen as a Tiger on Friday. There is no timetable yet for when he will pitch in a game.
… Outfielder Jim Adduci blasted a two-run homer Friday, his second of the spring.
... Left-hander Jairo Labourt, whom the Tigers designated for assignment last week, was claimed off waivers by the Reds Friday.