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'Sometimes you pay a price': Cabrera to keep playing despite chronic knee pain

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Doctors recommend Tigers' Miguel Cabrera no longer play first base as he deals with chronic pain in his right knee.

Detroit — Usually, when an athlete is told he has a chronic knee injury that he will have to treat and deal with the rest of his career, he takes it hard.

Not Miguel Cabrera.

“Really good news,” he said before the game Tuesday. “I’m so happy now.”

The reason for his joy — he was truly fearing his ailing right knee would need surgery. And as he said, “I’m done with surgery.”

The Tigers sent Cabrera’s MRI to four different orthopedic surgeons, including the Tigers’ Dr. Stephen Lemos and Dr. James Andrews. Surgery was discussed, but in the end, the four surgeons recommended against it.

“The MRI showed chronic changes in his knee that are a natural result of the attrition of a long athletic career,” Tigers head athletic trainer Doug Teter said. “The consensus was to treat it symptomatically and take it day by day. Read how he feels that day and go from there.”

The bad knee is on Cabrera’s drive leg when he hits. When the soreness becomes acute, like it did last week, it prevents him from using his legs in his swing, which of course negates his power. He has two home runs in 219 plate appearances.

“I’ve been dealing with this for two months,” Cabrera said. “I know I can play with this, but in Atlanta I was worried something bad was going to come. That’s why I asked to check my knee and do an MRI. I wanted to make sure it was nothing big.

“I just have to deal with it, the soreness and the pain that’s going to come with it. My goal is to go out there and do my job.”

Asked if he would have to alter his hitting mechanics to accommodate the knee, he said, “I hope not. I don’t want to have that on my mind. Just going to work hard and do what they tell me to get ready to play.”

One thing the doctors recommended, though, was no more playing first base. Cabrera, for the near future, will be a permanent designated hitter.

“It’s sad,” he said. “Really sad. The last few days I was thinking about that. I mean, it’s sad because I like to be in the field.”

Asked if he had begun to get a better feel for being a DH, or if he’d learned anything from playing with Victor Martinez for so many years, he said, “I don’t want to learn (laughing). I want to keep playing in the field.

“But I’ve been battling this for the last three years. It’s something I’ve got to do.”

Doctors told Cabrera, 36, that his knee has been deteriorating steadily the last five years.

“I’m used to this,” Cabrera said. “Sometimes you pay a price when you play for a lot of years. Sometimes you pay a price when you play for years when you are hurt.”

From 2004-2106, Cabrera averaged 154 games a year. He played despite having a torn groin and broken foot in 2013 and 2014. He played through a core muscle injury in 2016. And he played through an assortment of other minor injuries, as well. He said he wouldn’t do anything differently himself, but he would advise every young player not to repeat his mistake.

“The only advice I can say to young kids, take care of your body and stay healthy,” he said. “When you have something, stop playing for a week and come back. Don’t play through pain, because you are going to pay the price later.”

Teter would not divulge if Cabrera had a cortisone shot, but, after being unable to play over the weekend, he was back in the lineup Tuesday.

“He will dictate how this is going to go,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “He’ll tell me when he feels good enough to play. And if he’s having a bad day, he’ll tell me that too. If anything, it’s more pronounced now how we’re going to handle it — just now I’m not ever going to think about putting him out on first base.”

On that Gardenhire expects an occasional fight with Cabrera.

“He loves baseball and he hates sitting out,” Gardenhire said. “That surgery option would have taken him out and I know he didn’t want any part of that. Going out and playing is the best way for him to be happy.

“And I know he can help us. He can still hit.”


Twitter: @cmccosky