Detroit — Ron Gardenhire was asked how much better a manager he was when he can write the name Miguel Cabrera on the lineup card.
“Most people would say it does help the situation out,” he said, with a wry grin. “We missed him.”
Cabrera, who was out since May 3, was activated off the disabled list Friday after missing 26 games with a hamstring strain.
"I think he was excited," Gardenhire said after the Tigers beat the Blue Jays, 5-2. "I think he was nervous. I asked him before the game and he said he felt a little anxiety. I thought that was real cool — a guy that's played that long still gets a little anxious before a game."
Cabrera walked and ripped a single in four plate appearances. He hit the single with an exit velocity of 108 mph. His double-play ball in his first at-bat had an exit velocity of 105 mph.
He also made two impressive scoops at first base and saved a run in the sixth making an over the shoulder catch of a pop-up by Kevin Pillar.
“He’s been a big part of this lineup for a long time,” Gardenhire said. “I just hope we can keep him on the field.”
That was the mission and that’s why the Tigers did their level best to make sure Cabrera passed every possible physical test — on his back, hamstring, glut and knees — before putting him back on the field.
“He pushed it a little bit,” Gardenhire said. “He wanted to get back, as all players do. But we just wanted to give him a chance to do everything and test everything. He thought he was going to be ready a few days ago when he started to get back on the field to hit.
“But he saw he wasn’t ready. Once he started doing all the agility drills and the running, he saw he needed this — he needed more conditioning.”
Gardenhire was letting Cabrera call his shot on this. But when he saw Cabrera running full out before the game Thursday, he knew he was getting his No. 3 hitter back.
“He was striding out probably better than he was early in the season,” Gardenhire said. “He had no butt soreness, no hamstring soreness, he wasn’t guarded about anything. He was striding as good as had all year and I saw that with my own eyes.
“But Doug (Teter, head athletic trainer) always told me, the one thing about Miggy, he’s always been very honest with his health. If he’s saying he’s good to go, he’s good to go.”
For most players, missing nearly a month would necessitate a minor-league rehab assignment. Cabrera is not most players.
“He’s a different breed,” Gardenhire said. “He can flat-out hit and he’s always been able to hit, regardless. We’ll see how his timing is in his first couple at-bats, but he’ll figure it out pretty quick. But he’s a different breed when it comes to his skill set.”
In the 12 games before the injury, Cabrera hit .429 with a .510 slugging percentage and .714 OPS.
“It’s good to have our big guy back in the middle of the lineup,” Gardenhire said. “We will work everything around him.”
The Tigers, who designated utility infielder Pete Kozma for assignment to clear a roster spot, went 13-13 in Cabrera’s absence.