Detroit – It was before the game Tuesday in Texas and manager Ron Gardenhire was trying, as always, to keep the doom and gloom from setting in – not an easy task when suddenly the list of disabled Tigers has grown to six.
“We’ll be just fine here,” he said. “We have enough character in here. If we get healthy…”
He paused for a second.
“We’ve been playing without the big guy,” he said. “Really, we haven’t talked about that a lot. But he’s kind of in the middle of things here. We need him. It really solidifies our lineup.”
You can quantify what Miguel Cabrera means to the Tigers with his bat, but what gets overlooked is the impact of his defense at first base, his baseball IQ and just his all-around presence on a baseball field.
“It’s just different when teams see that big guy coming out of the dugout and standing on deck getting ready hit,” Gardenhire said. “The other team is aware of him, I promise you.”
Cabrera missed three games with a biceps strain, came back and was the designated hitter for the first game of the road trip. But he strained his hamstring in that game and was placed on the disabled list last Friday.
The Tigers, who have also lost pitchers Daniel Norris (groin), Jordan Zimmermann (shoulder impingement) and Alex Wilson (ruptured plantar fascia) and center fielder Leonys Martin (hamstring) – and didn’t have Nick Castellanos Wednesday because of a swollen knee – went 2-5 on the trip.
Four of the five losses were by two runs or less. They were walked-off once and lost two others when they led late. In the four losses with Cabrera on the DL, they left 37 runners on base and were 6-for-41 with runners in scoring position.
Cabrera, in his last 15 games before the biceps injury, was on a tear – .404/.500/.635, with a 1.135 OPS. He might have been able to cash in a few of those stranded runners.
Defensive lapses – mental and physical – were factors in a couple of the losses, as well, particularly lapses on the right side of the infield. Cabrera doesn’t move as quickly as he once did, but his hands are as good as anybody’s and his awareness on the field is second to none.
Some of the mistakes that were made on the road trip – pop-ups falling, not covering first base, poor communication on shift coverages – probably wouldn’t have happened with Cabrera in the lineup.
So, when might Cabrera get back into the lineup?
He is eligible to come off the DL on Monday and he told MLB.com that he thought if he wrapped the leg up tightly he could’ve played in the Rangers series. But activating him on Monday seems optimistic.
“There is a chance of anything,” Gardenhire said. “We have to see him get on the field. He hasn’t done a whole lot. He’s taken treatment every day. He still has to go through some kind of running program and the whole package.”
Cabrera, 35, who did some light jogging on the field in Texas Monday, joked with Gardenhire about sending him to Toledo for a rehab assignment. That’s not likely.
“He’s getting anxious, I can tell you that,” Gardenhire said. “But we have to be careful. I had a history of hamstrings and just when you think that you can do everything and run, something happens.
“Adrenaline is a difference-maker. When you run under controlled conditions, everything is fine. When the adrenaline hits you – you hit a ball and take off and that explosion hits – that’s when your hammy will tell you if you’re ready or not.”
For a frame of reference, the Rangers’ 39-year-old Adrian Beltre came off the disabled list Tuesday against the Tigers. He was also out with a hamstring strain. He missed 15 days.
“Miggy’s been grinding at it pretty good since Kansas City,” Gardenhire said. “The off-day (Thursday) gives him a chance to take a break, come back this weekend and let’s see where he’s at.”
ON DECK: MARINERS
Series: Three-game series at Comerica Park.
First pitch: Friday – 7:10 p.m.; Saturday – 4:10 p.m.; Sunday – 1:10 p.m.
TV/radio: All games on FSD and 97.1 FM.
Probables: Friday – LHP Marco Gonzales (3-2, 5.19) vs. LHP Matthew Boyd (1-3, 3.00); Saturday – RHP Felix Hernandez (4-3, 5.28) vs. RHP Michael Fulmer (1-2, 3.51); Sunday – LHP James Paxton (2-1, 3.40) vs. LHP Blaine Hardy (0-0, 2.70).
Gonzales, Mariners: It’s just his second year back after Tommy John surgery and he’s still fighting through the attendant inconsistencies. His fastball velocity fluctuates – normally he’s around 92, but uncorked one at 88 in his last start and former Tiger and current Angel Jefry Marte crushed it. Opponents are hitting .310 off him, but he limits a lot of damage with a swing-and-miss change-up.
Boyd, Tigers: As well as he’s pitched all season, the Tigers have wins in just two of his six starts. He’s worked with three runs or less in five of those starts, two or less in four. In three starts at Comerica, he’s allowed three runs in 18.1 innings. Opponents hit .197 off him in those starts.