Bob Wojnowski and Lynn Henning prepare you for Opening Day and the Tigers' 2018 season with a not-so-optimistic look at the rebuilding team's chances. Detroit News
Detroit — There is something to it, this youthful vitality thing. And it’s contagious.
Victor Martinez, the Detroit Tigers’ 39-year-old designated hitter, has been watching a parade of eager, young hitters go through their paces this spring — from prospects like Dawel Lugo and Sergio Alcantara, to guys about ready to make their mark like JaCoby Jones and Jeimer Candalario — and he’s been inspired.
“Believe it or not,” he said with a smile. “You see a couple guys here, they go to the plate and they just get in there and swing the bat. I say sometimes I’m going to go with that rookie approach.
“Just go out, see anything in the strike zone and swing hard. Be aggressive. That’s how they’ve been. They’ve been going at it real aggressively. If you make a mistake, make a mistake being aggressive. These guys are fun to watch.”
Martinez, the way he’s come back this spring after the heart scare last season, has been fun to watch. Swinging freely from both sides of the plate, he’s hit five home runs and through Sunday and was hitting .283.
Miguel Cabrera, too, has a bounce in his step and some life in his bat — neither was evident last season when he struggled to play with two bulging disks in his back. But with two spring games left, he was hitting .352 with three home runs.
“I kept up with Miggy in the offseason and I knew he was going to come in to camp in really tip-top shape,” general manager Al Avila said. “So the way he’s played is not a surprise to me. I expected him to do that because he really did put in the time and the effort — and it’s paid off.
“With Victor, we were concerned about his heart. But he hasn’t had any setbacks. When you have good health with good, experienced players, you expect good things to happen.”
If you are looking for ways the Tigers can over-achieve and surprise some people this season – start with those two.
“I don’t worry about Miggy,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “He feels good. He’s running around doing everything we ask. We know he can drive a baseball. He probably has the best batting-practice routine you can have as a hitter. He never tries to do too much.
“But you know what? He can still stretch out with the best of them.”
By stretch out, Gardenhire means he can bash the ball as far as he needs to. Cabrera is 38 home runs shy of 500. He’s probably three years from threatening 3,000 hits. He’s at 1,613 RBIs. His Hall-of-Fame worthiness has been well-established.
“I am really excited to have the opportunity to have him swinging for me instead of against me,” said Gardenhire, a former Twins manager. “He’s a great hitter. One of the best I’ve seen in the game and I really do mean that.
“He always stays within himself. He’s always a tough out. He’s a very intelligent hitter. It doesn’t surprise me that he’s coming up on all kinds of milestones. He’ll get them because he’s that good.”
Martinez’s career batting average dipped under .300 last year, down to .298. That’s still the sixth-highest average among switch-hitters all-time. He has more than 2,000 hits, including 236 home runs. He has strongly hinted that this will be the final year of his career.
“I don’t watch those numbers,” he said. “It’s hard to please everybody. You are going to have people that aren’t going to like you and you are going to have people who are going to like you. But at the end of the day, I think I’ve had a pretty decent career.
“The only thing I’m taking with me, that nobody is going to take away, is I know I have had a pretty decent career.”
That is indisputable.