Seattle — Top of the fifth inning Thursday night, the Tigers had just scored a run to cut the Mariners lead to 7-2. The bases were still loaded with one out and Miguel Cabrera was at the plate against soft-tossing left-hander Wade LeBlanc.
This is a situation Cabrera has built his career on. Even this year, at age 36, he’s hitting .302 against lefties and has a .416 batting average with runners in scoring position. You are thinking, and certainly the dugout is thinking, Tigers are about to get back into this game.
Instead, Cabrera bounces into an inning-ending double-play and you could feel the air come out of the sails. The Tigers made 11 straight outs after that and never threatened again.
“He’s more concerned about this than anyone, believe me,” Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said before Friday's game.
Entering play Friday, Cabrera was in a 3-for-40 skid since the All-Star break. He’s got one extra-base hit, a double, with nine punch-outs. His slugging percentage and OPS are at career-worst levels (.362 and .701). His wRC-plus (weighted runs created, park and league adjusted) is 88, 12 runs below average and 29th worst in baseball.
His hard-hit rate is down to 42.9 percent, his lowest in the Statcast era and 51st in baseball. His chase rate (36.4) and whiff rate (24.1) are his worst in five years.
But this is what it looks like when one of the greatest hitters of his generation is trying to hit on one leg.
“He’s always had results,” Gardenhire said. “But his legs aren’t underneath him totally and he’s battling through some things…It’s all about not having your legs. If you don’t have your legs, you don’t have much.”
Cabrera deals with chronic pain in his right knee. It’s prevented him from fully driving off his back leg and turning on pitches. Gardenhire said he has spent a lot of time with hitting coach Lloyd McClendon trying to change his mechanics.
“They are trying to figure out how you can make adjustments to take some of the pressure off the back leg,” Gardenhire said. “They were talking about that today, just trying to figure out how we can make him more comfortable in there.
“But we can’t do too awful much.”
Cabrera spent some time before early batting practice on Thursday with Mariners coach and legend Ichiro Suzuki. Cabrera, with a bat in his hand, was showing Ichiro how he’s had to modify his swing to compensate for the knee.
“All we can do is keep running him out there,” Gardenhire said. “He’s going to play. He’s going to be our DH.”
Gardenhire said there’s been no talk of limiting his playing time, other than what they’ve been doing — not playing him in day games following night games.
“His health has always been one of my top concerns,” Gardenhire said. “If we can just keep him in there, he means a lot to us. You just hope he will get hot and start killing the baseball. But he’s definitely got issues with his base and he’s trying to figure out a way to get through it.”
Wayne State strong
Wayne State grad Anthony Bass is carving out a nice niche for himself in the Mariners bullpen. In his last six outings, working in various situations between the fourth and ninth innings, he’s allowed two runs with 10 strikeouts, holding hitters to a .167 average.
He’s inherited nine runners this season and none of them have scored.
“Yeah, I’ve been pitching quite a bit,” he said. “They are using me in different roles. The way this 'pen is set up, everybody has to be ready at all times.”
The 31-year-old Trenton native started the year in the Reds system, but after 19 strong outings at Triple-A Louisville (0.934 WHIP) it was clear the Reds had no room for him.
“They said if any opportunities came up, they wouldn’t stand in the way,” Bass said. “They really didn’t have room for me there and I was more than ready to get back to the big leagues.”
He’s been with the Mariners since May 22, living in downtown Seattle with his wife and daughter. But, even on postcard perfect day here Friday, he was longing for his Michigan summers.
“Yeah, I do miss summers in Michigan,” he said. “I miss going out on the lake.”
A couple of years ago, he thought he might finally get a chance to play for his hometown Tigers.
“I was considering playing for Detroit (before the 2017 season),” he said. “But Al (Avila, general manager) didn’t really sell the team to me, you know. I wasn’t sure how strong their interest was in me, so I said, ‘Let’s see what else is out there.’
“Otherwise, I would’ve loved to play there.”
Bass spent time with the Cubs in 2017, then was with the Reds until May.
Around the horn
Pistons coach Dwane Casey was at the ballpark Friday night. Casey’s roots in Seattle are deep. He was an assistant first on George Karl’s and then Nate McMillan’s staffs with the SuperSonics. He was a coach on the Sonics’ great teams in the late '90s that featured Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton.
… Veteran right-hander Edwin Jackson, whom the Tigers signed to a minor-league deal earlier in the week, was scheduled to make his debut for Triple-A Toledo on Saturday night at Syracuse.
Tigers at Mariners
First pitch: Friday, 4:10 p.m.
TV/radio: FSD, 97.1
LHP Tyler Alexander (0-0, 2.25), Tigers: This will be his third start for the Tigers. He’s allowed three runs in 12 innings, despite an average exit velocity on balls in play of 92.5 mph. Against his slider, change-up and curve ball, though, hitters are 1-for-21. The Mariners have a heavy left-handed hitting lineup, which he should matchup well against.
LHP Marco Gonzales (11-8, 4.37), Mariners: His 11 wins are among the leaders in the American League, but he’s also getting an average of 5.25 runs per start — which helps. He doesn’t throw any pitch firmer than 89 mph and he doesn’t get a lot of swings and misses. But he’s crafty and gets a lot of weak contact.