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McClendon: Cabrera's desire to play defense runs counter to goal of keeping him healthy

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Kansas City, Mo. – That Miguel Cabrera wants to play some first base next season, that he detests the role of permanent designated hitter, has been well known for a couple of years now within the organization.

He reiterated his desire to play defense again on Saturday.

Tigers' Miguel Cabrera makes a throw during infield practice at Detroit Tigers Summer Camp at Comerica Park in July.

“I miss a lot playing first base,” he said. “I hope they can give me more time to play first. I need to be in the field. I’m learning to be a DH right now, but it’s hard for me to go hit and go sit and just think about what I’m going to do for the next at-bat.

“In the past I would hit, then forget about hitting and play defense. It was a very different game to me. Now I am learning to be a DH but at the same time, I want to spend a little more time at first base next year. Hopefully I can do that.”

The problem with that – as Brad Ausmus, Ron Gardenhire and now Lloyd McClendon have all said – is that playing first base runs counter to the most vital mission regarding Cabrera.

More: Q&A with Tigers' Miguel Cabrera: 'I think we are really close to taking the next step'

“I will say this,” McClendon said, “I wouldn’t put anything past him. But the most important thing we always have in mind is making sure we keep Miggy healthy and in a position to play on a daily basis. And to this point, playing first base would hinder that and be a grind for him.”

Just watch the Tigers infield alignment when they deploy a shift on a right-handed hitter, which they do as much as any team in baseball. The first baseman ends up being the only defender on the right side of the infield, aligned well off first base, maybe a third of the way toward second.

Harold Castro had a hard time getting to the bag on ground balls against the shift on Friday night. If Cabrera was to play first base, the Tigers would have to adjust their shift alignments.

“We will see what happens next year,” McClendon said. “He may come in in great shape and feeling good – we’d just go from there.”

Jordan Zimmermann

Farewell for Zimmermann 

He didn’t want it billed like this, but McClendon has made a very classy gesture to veteran Jordan Zimmermann, whose time with the Tigers, and possibly his career, ends after this season.

McClendon announced that Zimmermann, who has made just one start and one relief appearance this season coming back from a forearm strain, will start the potential season-finale on Sunday. Rookie Tarik Skubal, who was the scheduled starter, will follow Zimmermann and probably pitch the bulk of the game.

“It’ll be as an opener,” McClendon said. “We’ve been trying to find ways to get Zimm back in there. It’s awfully hard for him to get it going, sitting for four or five innings and then ask him to try to get loose and come into a ballgame.

“We figured this was the best way to do it. He’s been built as a starter his entire career, he’s used to the routine. So we will get him going and get him in there.”

Zimmermann, a two-time All-Star with the Nationals, has battled an assortment of injuries since signing a five-year, $110 million contract with the Tigers in 2016. It will he 97th and final start wearing the Olde English D.

UT Harold Castro (.347/.407/.429): They don’t call him Hitting Harold for nothing. He was limited to 54 plate appearances by hamstring injuries in both legs and his absence was significant. The Tigers missed his left-handed bat and his position versatility. Progress report: Stayed the same.

Around the horn 

Because of expected bad weather later in the day here Sunday, game time for the finale of this series has been moved up two hours, to 1:05 p.m. Eastern.

…With one more home run, Cabrera will join Mr. Tiger, Al Kaline, as the only two players in franchise history to record 2,000 or more hits and 350-or-more home runs with the Tigers. Cabrera has 349 homers and 2,022 hits with the club and Kaline finished his 22-year career with 399 homers and 3,007 hits.

…How about Hitting Harold Castro. He missed a month with tightness in both hamstrings, then comes back hitting like he’d never left. He’s had at least one hit 10 of his last 11 games, hitting.500/.531/.633 with four doubles and three RBI in that stretch. He’s still having trouble running, though, evidence Friday night by his inability to go first to third on hit in the fifth or score from first on a double by Niko Goodrum in the seventh.

…The loss Friday was the Tigers’ fourth straight by one run (their fifth straight overall). According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that was the first time they four straight one-run games since April 19-22, 1996 (which were all road losses against the California Angels). The Tigers are 6-9 in one-run games on the season.

Twitter @cmccosky