Miguel Cabrera banking on 'better season' as he takes aim at 500 homers, 3,000 hits

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Editor's note: Harold Castro's performance at the plate has been corrected. He's 3 for 5.

Port Charlotte, Fla. – Miguel Cabrera watched his friend Albert Pujols collect his 2,000th RBI at Comerica Park last season and it made an impression on him.

“When you see that, being a baseball player, that’s amazing,” Cabrera said Thursday after singling in the Tigers’ 6-3 Grapefruit League loss to the Tampa Bay Rays. “To play this sport and come here every day and then watch a guy do that, I mean, not many guys do that.

Miguel Cabrera

“It’s pretty special. To have an opportunity to do that, it’s really special.”

Cabrera has a chance to reach a couple of hallowed milestones himself this season. He is 23 home runs shy of 500 and 185 hits from 3,000.

“What do you guys think?” Cabrera said, playfully.

BOX SCORE: Rays 6, Tigers 3 

Cabrera admitted he’s thought a lot about it himself.

“The last two years, yes, but I was hurt,” he said. “Hopefully I can have a better season.”

Cabrera has four hits in nine spring at-bats thus far, hitting the ball mostly to the right side of the field. In his first two at-bats on Thursday, the Rays over-shifted their defense to the left side, as if he were a pull hitter.

"Every time," he said. "Every time."

During his batting practice sessions, though, Cabrera has been driving the ball to all fields, as he did routinely before the injuries started piling up. 

"Miggy always has that feel," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He's got the feel for the whole field. He knows what he's doing. I would be the last person in the world to tell Miguel Cabrera how to hit.

"I just let Miggy do Miggy. He's pretty good."

Cabrera hasn’t produced 185 hits or more than 23 home runs since 2016. He notched 12 home runs and 139 hits essentially playing on one leg last season. Who knows what he might produce if he can stay reasonably healthy.

“Wait for the season,” he said. “Just wait for the season, that’s all we can do.”

When asked what it would mean for him to become seventh player to achieve 500 homers and 3,000 hits, Cabrera channeled John F. Kennedy, saying it’s not about what it means to him.

“For baseball,” he said. “The more guys who do things like that, the more exciting it is for baseball.”

Rough start

Jordan Zimmermann, making his second start of the spring, gave up four runs in the first two innings, allowing a two-run home run to former Tigers prospect Willy Adames. But he settled down and struck out the last three batters he faced.

"It was rough early but in his last inning he got through the ball better," Gardenhire said. "It looked like it was moving better."

Jordan Zimmermann

It was. Zimmermann said his slider was flat early and his sinker was staying up. But in the third inning he struck out Yoshi Tsutsugo with a sharp curve ball and then set up Yandy Diaz with a sinker on the hands and struck him out with a back-door slider.

"He got up to 45 pitches (44) and he got better as he went along," Gardenhire said. "That's what you want to see."

Bullpen battle

Lefties Nick Ramirez, Tyler Alexander and Hector Santiago each worked an inning and all could possibly be in the hunt for one of the final bullpen jobs.

"It'll play out," Gardenhire said. "Hopefully there will be separation. I don't mean that in a bad way, just that there will be some separation where one guy looks like a better fit for us right now."

Ramirez pitched a clean fourth with two punch-outs. Santiago walked a batter and fanned two. Alexander, who is also in the rotation battle, gave up an RBI double to Tsutsugo. 

"Right now we're just trying to get everybody in," Gardenhire said. "There's a lot of guys, so just get them in ballgames and go from there and see how it ends up. That's all they want -- just an opportunity to be in there."

Game bits

Dearborn Divine Child product Eric Haase, trying to win the backup catcher job, pounded a two-run homer that cleared the batter’s eye in center field – more than 414 feet. "My timing has been just a little bit off," he said. "I feel like my swing is in good shape but I'd been just a little quick or a little late. Hitting one up the middle was great."

... Harold Castro, hitting .600 this spring (3 for 5), had two hits including a double. He also made a diving play at second base.

... The Rays tacked on an unearned run off right-hander John Schreiber in the eighth when shortstop Willi Castro dropped a wind-blown pop up with two outs. 

Twitter @cmccosky