Lakeland, Fla. — Miguel Cabrera connected on a 96-mph fastball Saturday from Braves right-hander Jacob Webb. The ball flew over the right-center field fence and banged off the 15-foot wall, nearly reaching the bounce house and inflatable slide that sit on the concourse at Publix Field.
“Wind,” Cabrera said, with a grin.
No. The slight breeze blowing in that direction didn’t much impact that one. It was a vintage opposite-field missile by Cabrera. He last broke out his home run trot on April 28.
“Everybody throws hard, so you’ve got to be ready for that,” Cabrera said. “You’ve got to be aggressive. At the same time, I’ve got to take some pitches, see some pitches. It’s been a long time since I’ve faced pitching, so right now it’s hard to see what’s going to be my strike zone.
“I’ve got to figure it out.”
Cabrera, who is returning after right biceps surgery cost him three and a half months last year, isn’t exactly scuffling in the meantime. He singled and walked before he clouted that two-run home run in the Tigers’ 7-4 Grapefruit League win over the Braves.
"He' actually been swinging real good," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We're seeing him hit it all over the place in batting practice. It's all about timing. He's been off a long, long time.
"But you know what, he won't have to work as hard as a lot of other guys for timing. He's just a great hitter. You saw him take some real good pitches and foul off some pitches. And he barreled it up, too."
Cabrera has six hits in 11 at-bats this spring. Still, he’s not getting too far ahead of himself.
“In this game, you never know,” he said. “Sometimes you are hitting the ball hard, and then the next week you are hitting soft.”
Cabrera said a better test will come in the next couple of weeks when they hit the dog days.
“We will see where we are at,” he said. “At some point in spring training you’re going to be tired, because we do a lot of stuff here. And we are on our feet, standing out there, doing early work and all the little things you’ve got to do.
“Let’s see what happens.”
Brandon Dixon, claimed off waivers from the Reds and trying to win a utility spot, singled and hit a long, two-run home run to left-center. Nick Castellanos also got two hits, and he made a nice play to throw out William Contreras in the fourth inning.
He chased the ball into the right field corner, made a strong relay throw to second baseman Josh Harrison, who then threw to shortstop Jordy Mercer.
Mercer being Mercer
Mercer has two hits in his first 12 at-bats this spring, which, he said, is about par for the course.
“I’ve always been a slow starter,” he said. “That’s how I’ve always been. For me, it’s about timing. I have a little bit of a leg kick, so my timing is always an issue early. I feel like I am seeing the ball well. I am not swinging at bad pitches, which is a tell-tale sign as well.
“At this stage of my career, I’m just getting ready for Opening Day. That’s the big thing for me. I want to be ready to roll when that day gets here.”
Another step forward
Mercer and his longtime double-play partner Harrison turned a sweet 4-6-3 on speedy Ender Inciarte in the third inning Saturday. It was starter Jordan Zimmermann’s final inning and he quite enjoyed it.
“It took me about 20 starts last year to get one,” he said, laughing. “I don’t really know what happened out there. I started walking off with two outs; I thought there were three. Had to do a quick U-turn.”
It was Zimmermann’s third solid start of the spring. He threw 46 pitches and had four strikeouts. He gave up a single to Inciarte and an RBI double to Johan Comargo, the first two hitters he faced. After that, he allowed just one hit and a walk.
“That was the first time working out of the stretch this spring,” he said. “I was little lost in that first inning. But I got back on track. The second inning (nine pitches) was much better with everything. It wasn’t my best outing, but still decent.”
Around the horn
... Tigers RHP prospect Franklin Perez was scratched Saturday. Gardenhire said he had an, "upper trap spasm." Gardenhire said it wasn't anything serious and he was held out only as a precaution.
.. .Shane Greene, Blaine Hardy, Buck Farmer and Matt Hall each pitched a scoreless inning Saturday. Hardy struck out University of Michigan product Ryan LaMarre on three pitches — a 90-mph fastball and two change-ups.
... Right-hander Zac Reininger gave up a three-run home run in the eighth to Garrison Schwartz.
... The Tigers play two road split-squad games Sunday. Daniel Norris will start in Tampa against the Yankees. Matthew Boyd will start against the Orioles in Sarasota. Cabrera, Mercer, Castellanos and Harrison will not make either trip after starting back-to-back games.