Detroit – Over the winter, Tigers first-year hitting coach Joe Vavra had to resort to private investigator tricks to keep tabs on slugger Miguel Cabrera.
Cabrera, in vintage playful Miggy fashion, had given Vavra his cell phone number and steadfastly ignored all his texts. Vavra, though, was undeterred. He sought out a number of people in Cabrera’s inner circle and used them like spies to track and monitor Cabrera’s offseason workouts.
Those days appear over.
“He was texting me all spring (during the shutdown),” Vavra said in a Zoom call Thursday. “There was a roll of a couple of weeks where he was sending me a video every day. And he’d do something different to see if I was paying attention (laughing).
“I kind of liked that. He kind of let me in. So I sent him one back of me hitting and said, ‘This is how you do it.’”
There has been a buzz about Cabrera since he showed up lean and mean in Lakeland back in February. He kept his body toned through the three-month shutdown and has been taking regular reps at first base as well as his usual lumberjack work in the batting cage.
“He left half his body in Miami,” Vavra quipped. “That gives you an indication of how serious he’s taking it.”
Vavra spends a lot of his time in camp working with the younger hitters, getting his first extended look at prospects like Riley Greene, Spencer Torkelson and Dillon Dingler, and he’s not afraid to use Cabrera as a visual aid.
“I tell these young guys, ‘Please, if you have the time, watch his routine, because it’s flawless,’” Vavra said. “He gets busy. He can get 100 swings with the best of them and not even be breathing hard. That means the mechanical part of it is efficient and he’s not taxing his body with effort on every swing.
“His mindset is rock solid. It’s good to see him so determined again.”
Eyes on Mize
Tigers top pitching prospect Casey Mize didn’t appear overwhelmed facing Cabrera Thursday in the daily intrasquad game. Mize struck him out on three pitches, getting an ugly swing on a split-fingered fastball and then getting him to chase a four-seam fastball up and outside the zone.
Asked what he liked about Mize’s perfect 2.1 innings of work, Gardenhire laughed.
“About everything, my goodness gracious,” he said. “I’ve seen him pitch before, but when you start expecting things like that, it says a lot. He is filthy. He knows how to read a hitter, he knows how to set up a hitter.
“We’ve got a good one here.”
Mize, pitching for the victorious Team Maybin, needed just 25 pitches to quell seven hitters. He struck out three (Cabrera, Niko Goodrum and Jorge Bonifacio). He made one bad pitch, a hanging breaking ball that C.J. Cron got under and flew out to left.
Maybe super utility man Harold Castro should skip winter ball every year. This was the first winter as a professional that he didn’t play in the Venezuelan Winter League (it was shut down) and he’s come back looking stronger than ever. He had two singles (one off lefty Matthew Boyd) and a double and knocked in three runs Thursday. “He can hit,” Gardenhire said. “He’s got a great set of hands and he gets the barrel to the ball.” Castro is 4 for 6 in the two intrasquad games.
… Boyd gave up four hits and a run with two strikeouts in three innings. He labored a bit in his first inning, which was extended by shortstop Niko Goodrum’s second error in two games. But he was strong and in control over the next two innings.
… Sidearming right-hander Nolan Blackwood had an interesting inning. He got Dingler to tap out in front of the mound, then he struck out Torkelson, inducing a couple of very tentative swings. But after getting two strikes on Jake Rogers, the third right-handed hitter he faced, he left a breaking ball up. Rogers stayed back and sent it on a line into the Tigers’ bullpen in left field.