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Miguel Cabrera's 'presence' a welcome boost to sagging Tigers offense

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Detroit — Nobody is under the delusion that Miguel Cabrera’s return to the lineup will immediately cure the Tigers hitting woes.

But, doggone, it won’t hurt.

The Tigers' Miguel Cabrera returned to the lineup on Sunday after a stint on the injured list.

“It doesn’t just snap our fingers and make us better, no,” manager AJ Hinch said. “But it will make a difference.”

The Tigers went 4-7 in the 11 games that Cabrera missed with a left biceps strain. They went 1-8 in the last nine before Cabrera returned Sunday and had scored a total of 18 runs while striking out 89 times. It should be noted that outfielder Nomar Mazara (ab strain) has been out the last nine games, too.

“It’s been difficult simply because of the way the lineup functions,” Hinch said. “Obviously we need a lot of guys to get warm and swing the bat a little bit. They’ve done it before and they’re going to do it again. This is not a team that can’t hit; it’s a team that hasn’t been hitting.”

If you take two middle-of-the-order hitters out of any lineup for a 10-game stretch, most will struggle to score. And for a team that lacks firepower when fully healthy, their absence is magnified.

“You are starting to ask guys to hit in certain areas of the lineup that they’re not used to,” Hinch said. “It’s no excuse. We still have to put up good at-bats and try to create offense. But having Nomar out of five or six spot and having Miggy out of the middle of the order, just their presence alone, changes things.”

Here’s the nine-game breakdown leading into play Sunday:

Jeimer Candelario: 5 for 33, 11 strikeouts.

Willi Castro: 7 for 28, seven strikeouts.

Robbie Grossman: 7 for 30, 10 strikeouts.

Wilson Ramos: 5 for 32, six strikeouts.

Niko Goodrum: 5 for 26, 12 strikeouts.

Jonathan Schoop: 4 for 27, four strikeouts.

JaCoby Jones: 3 for 19, seven strikeouts.

Victor Reyes: 4 for 20, five strikeouts.

Akil Baddoo: 3 for 23, 15 strikeouts.

It’s fair to ask how much difference Cabrera can make, especially considering he was just 3 for 24 before the injury. The answer is, there’s more to Cabrera’s presence in the lineup than his numbers.

“I do believe in presence,” Hinch said. “Stability is important to me. Despite me mixing and matching — that’s just the kind of team we have — I do like presence and I do like stability. There’s other things, subtle things that are not just the four at-bats that Miggy brings.

“It might be something on the bench. With the COVID rules, you can’t be on the bench when you are on the injured list. But there’s conversations, little tips here and there, baseball talk, the game-planning we do. There’s a lot of stuff Miggy brings that doesn’t get recorded in a box score.”

The box score from Sunday showed Cabrera going 0-for-4 with three strikeouts. Hinch forewarned, though, that he will be easing him back into the mix. He started at first base on Sunday, but Hinch said he has pre-planned days off for Cabrera during the upcoming road trip through Chicago, New York and Boston.

“It’s just great to have Miggy back,” he said.

Short stay

The Tigers sent infielder Zack Short back to the alternate site Saturday to make room for Cabrera, but he made a strong impression in just a couple of days.

“He’s a very fundamentally sound player,” Hinch said. “He has a little edge to him, the athleticism, that spark, there’s a bounce in his step. He’s a pretty intriguing guy that can fit on a lot of major-league teams and a lot of styles of major-league teams.”

Hinch’s parting gift to Short was telling him that this wouldn’t be his last stint in Detroit.

“We want to get him up here as soon as a position on the roster makes sense,” Hinch said. “He’s got a lot to learn and a lot to get better at, but he’s also got a lot to give this team when we need him.”

A do-over

Strange play in the top of the ninth Sunday. 

The Royals' Whit Merrifield stole second base without a throw from catcher Wilson Ramos. Then he was sent back to first by home-plate umpire Chris Conroy. There didn't appear to be catcher's interference on the play, especially since Ramos didn't attempt to throw.

And if there was interference, Merrifield would have been called out. 

Here's the explanation:

"Interference is different when the umpire reacts to contact," Hinch said. "(Batter Carlos Santana) caught Wilson with his backswing."

Replays did show Ramos getting nicked with Santana's bat.

"Wilson didn't throw but Santana made contact with his bat," Hinch said. "With that you can send the runner back to first on the umpire's discretion and reset the play."

Merrifield stole second on the very next pitch and scored on Santana's two-run single.  

Around the horn

The Tigers are expected to find out early next week whether Renato Nunez, who was designated for assignment last week, cleared waivers and is willing to stay in the organization and report to Toledo.

... Regarding Mazara, general manager Al Avila said Sunday on MLB Radio that Mazara, who is in Lakeland, is expected to begin his rehab assignment with Toledo when the Triple-A season begins May 4. The hope is he will rejoin the Tigers around May 9 or May 10. 

Matthew Boyd’s 1.80 ERA is the lowest by a Tigers pitcher through five starts since Jordan Zimmermann posted a 0.55 ERA (33.0IP/2ER) to start the 2016 season. Boyd on Saturday also became the first Tigers starter to complete eight or more innings in 89 or fewer pitches since Mike Fiers did it on June 2, 2018. He’s the first Tiger to do it in a loss since Chad Durbin on June 8, 2007.

Royals at Tigers

First pitch: 1:10 p.m. Monday, Comerica Park, Detroit

TV/radio: BSD/97.1 FM

Scouting report

RHP Brad Keller (1-2, 12.00), Royals: Three of his four starts have been nightmares, as his ERA might indicate. Hitters have feasted on his best three pitches: four-seam (.353), sinker (.400) and slider (.385). He’s not helped himself with nine walks in 12 innings, either.

RHP Spencer Turnbull (1-0, 1.80), Tigers: He showed virtually no rust in his delayed season debut last Wednesday, allowing just two hits and run (all in the first inning) in the Tigers 5-2 win over the Pirates. He used mostly four-seam fastballs and sliders, throwing only 10 sinkers against a predominantly left-handed lineup.

chris.mccosky@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @cmccosky