McCosky: Pandemic likely stalls Miguel Cabrera's milestone chase this summer

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Lakeland, Fla. — This COVID-19 pandemic is scrambling our lives and threatening our loved ones and livelihoods. In the sports world, it's changing story lines every day, as well.

Miguel Cabrera is chasing a couple of hallowed milestones — 3,000 hits and 500 home runs — and the longer the season is delayed, the more unlikely his chances of achieving them in this his age-37 season.

Tigers designated hitter Miguel Cabrera was hitting .345 with three home runs in 29 at-bats this spring.

Getting the 185 hits he needs to reach 3,000 already was going to be dicey. It’s been three years since he’s posted more than 139 hits in a full season. Well, take that back: His last “full” season was in 2016 when he played 158 games and collected 188 hits.

He played 130, 38 and 136 games in three subsequent, injury-plagued seasons. His hit totals those years were 117, 40 and 139. He was going to need 150-plus games this season, you’d think, to produce 185 hits.

And there is no telling how many games we’re going to get. Already we’ve lost March, April and May — 59 scheduled games for the Tigers.

If the season started June 1 (doubtful), maybe Major League Baseball could find a way, using off-days, doubleheaders and extending the season through October, to play what, 120-130 games?

Cabrera probably will have to wait to 2021 to get his 3,000th hit. But the 500th home run might still be in play. He’s just 23 short, and if he can come back off this unwanted break hitting like he was, we will be celebrating another Miggy milestone this summer.

It’s a big if, though.

Cabrera came to camp as fit as he’s been since 2016 and maybe as motivated and focused as he’s ever been. He guessed that he lost between 25 and 30 pounds, but he looked more shredded than that. And he was raking this spring. He had his old swing mechanics back, turning and burning off his back leg, his bat speed back to where we’ve always been accustomed.

Manager Ron Gardenhire was on 97.1 FM The Ticket on Wednesday morning, talking with Jamie Samuelsen and Mike Stone and he was asked if he thought Cabrera had been embarrassed by his performance last season.

“I don’t think embarrassed is ever a word you can use about Miguel Cabrera,” he said. “I think it was more frustration because his body wouldn’t let him do what he’d always been able to do.”

That’s it, precisely. And he made it his mission to change his diet, his fitness regimen, his lifestyle, essentially. And he was moving around better than ever, wearing his dry-fit adidas workout shirts tucked into shorts or baseball pants — rightfully proud of his new physique.

“You have to tip your cap to him,” Gardenhire said. “He did exactly what he said he was going to do. He lost the weight and got himself in great shape. He can hit. Everybody knows he can hit. But the way he’s been driving the ball, that was good to see.

“It was like I was watching him from the other dugout again (when he was with the Twins and Cabrera was winning a Triple Crown).

But let’s be clear: His right knee isn’t healed. The bone-on-bone condition is chronic, it cannot be fixed unless he has replacement surgery — and that would obviously be a career-ender. The weight loss has taken immense pressure off the knee. The bio-mechanical adjustments and the flexibility he’s gained through training is helping, as well.

He has done everything in his power to limit the pain and debilitating effects of the knee.

But at some point this season that knee will start barking again. Is he better equipped to deal with that now that he’s lost the weight? Of course. Maybe it won’t be as severe as it was last year. But to think he’s going to breeze through a season — however long — without dealing with pain in that knee is naïve.

Had this shutdown not happened, Cabrera was primed to hit the ground running. Who knows? He might’ve piled up a bunch of hits and dingers in the first couple of months — igniting the milestone chase story line in earnest -— before the normal aches and pains started to take their inevitable toll.

Now? It’s as if that first camp was a mirage. We’ll have to wait a month or so until the second spring training to see if the rebuilt and rejuvenated Miguel Cabrera was real.

Twitter: @cmccosky