July 27th, 2013

Cabrera returns to Tigers lineup

Miguel Cabrera walked into the Tigers clubhouse after a workout Saturday afternoon, looked around, saw the throng of reporters waiting and joked around.

“No lineup yet,” he asked in mock frustration.

He then walked into manager Jim Leyland’s office and gave him the answer the Tigers and the city had been waiting to hear. He’s ready to play.

With that, Cabrera was back in his usual third spot in the Tigers batting order, starting at third base. He’s not at full strength, more like about 70 percent by his estimation, but he’s good enough to play. And as Cabrera has demonstrated over the years, when he’s healthy enough to play, he plays.

As Cabrera has also shown, his 70 percent is better than a lot of players at full strength.

Cabrera missed the previous four games after leaving Monday’s series opener against the White Sox with what was classified a sore left hip flexor. On Saturday, Cabrera said it was more of a left abdominal injury, different than the hip and back issues he had been dealing with off and on for the past month or so.

Cabrera said he tweaked it running the bases Monday. He’s still limited in his running, but he feels fine doing everything else.

“It was good hitting, fielding,” Cabrera said after his workout Saturday. “It bothered me running.”

He’s hoping that a few days back in the lineup, plus off-days in the schedule next Monday and Thursday, get him close to full strength. He does not believe it’ll be an injury that bothers him the rest of the year.

After more than a month of dealing with various aches and pains, he’s hoping to get to some sort of injury-free play for the stretch run.

“It’s hard,” he admitted. “You try, but it’s hard.”

Cabrera returns to action still leading the league with a .358 batting average, 23 points above anyone else in the Majors entering play Saturday. He lost his RBI lead to Baltimore’s Chris Davis earlier in the week, but trails him by only one with 96 RBIs. Cabrera’s 31 home runs still have him six behind Davis.

From a purely statistical standpoint, it’s a better season than last year for Cabrera. He just didn’t have a season like Davis’ challenging him last year.

If he doesn’t win the Triple Crown, he could end up with a historic third consecutive batting as a consolation. He’d be just the eighth hitter in Major League history to do it and the first since Tony Gwynn won four in a row from 1994-97. No right-handed hitter has won three straight batting crowns since Rogers Hornsby dominated the National League from 1920-25.

Saturday’s lineups: Tigers vs. Phillies

Miguel Cabrera returns to the Tigers lineup, having gone through a workout this afternoon. He’s not at 100 percent, but he’s good enough to play, and he doesn’t seem to believe he’ll make it worse by playing through it. Torii Hunter, too, is back in the lineup, having gone through running drills on the field earlier today.

The end result is a Tigers lineup that looks normal, and a potentially rough go for Phillies spot starter Raul Valdes.

TIGERS

  1. Austin Jackson, CF
  2. Torii Hunter, RF
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 3B
  4. Prince Fielder, 1B (0-for-1 off Valdes)
  5. Victor Martinez, DH
  6. Jhonny Peralta, SS
  7. Matt Tuiasosopo, LF
  8. Hernan Perez, 2B
  9. Alex Avila, C

P: Max Scherzer

PHILLIES (career numbers off Scherzer)

  1. Michael Young, 3B (7-for-23, 2 walks, 4 K’s)
  2. Kevin Frandsen, 1B (0-for-3)
  3. Jimmy Rollins, SS
  4. Chase Utley, 2B (1-for-2, walk)
  5. Delmon Young, DH (3-for-10, 3 K’s)
  6. Darin Ruf, LF
  7. Laynce Nix, RF
  8. Erik Kratz, C
  9. Michael Martinez, CF

P: Raul Valdes

Game 102: So much for that closer search

In a previous scenario, this was supposed to be the weekend the Phillies showcased Jonathan Papelbon to the Tigers ahead of next week’s nonwaiver trade deadline.

That scenario, of course, involved the Phillies finally falling far enough out of the NL East race that selling off big-contract veterans became inevitable. That hasn’t happened. Nor has the scenario where Papelbon picks up his past role as one of the game’s great closers.

Neither, though, has the scenario where the Tigers become desperate enough at closer to overpay for a proven arm. Joaquin Benoit has become the veteran closer, even if the experience that makes him a veteran reliever includes very little closing until this year.

In reality, Friday was a pretty good showcase for Benoit and what he has brought to the job. With a one-run lead, a pitching duel the Tigers led only with a two-run double from Alex Avila and eight very strong innings from Doug Fister, Benoit took a save chance to the brink and converted it.

In the process, he had the kind of steps would have once made fans panic about Jose Valverde, from a single to the leadoff batter to back-to-back stolen bases from Jimmy Rollins to put the tying run on third base — albeit with one out when he stole second and two outs when he stole third.

“As long as the runs don’t score, I don’t really mind,” Benoit said. “They can get three hits, and if they don’t score, I’m fine.”

Better three hits than three walks. He didn’t so much as reach a three-ball count Friday, extending his streak to six consecutive appearances without walking a hitter.

He has walked three batters over 14 innings since becoming the closer in mid-June, allowing one run on 11 hits with 19 strikeouts. He’s 7-for-7 in save chances in that stretch, and 10-for-10 on the season.

If you put more stock in one-run saves, wanting to know how a closer works with no room for error, Friday was Benoit’s fourth of those. Two of those came in April, one of them saved when Brayan Pena withstood a collision at the plate with Justin Smoak in Seattle. His other one-run save since claiming the closer job was a 7-6 win in Toronto July 2, retiring the Blue Jays in order.

As a result, every indication is that the Tigers are a better candidate to trade for a setup man than another closer. That doesn’t mean they won’t deal for a closer if the opportunity is too good to pass up, but they like their setup now, and they’re comfortable adding relievers to support Benoit closing rather than bump him from the job.

Play of the night: As defensive plays go, Laynce Nix’s mad dash and leap to reach into the right-field seats and bring back a foul ball for an out was pretty impressive. Whether it was a poor job for fans going after the ball is up for debate, though none of them were even looking over and thinking Nix might have a play.

Out of the night: The biggest outs of the game arguably came in the third inning after Michael Young’s single through the left side gave the Phillies their first lead since last Saturday. With two runners, one out and the middle of the Phillies lineup (such as it is) looming, Doug Fister regrouped and struck out Kevin Frandsen and Jimmy Rollins. He rolled from there.

Strategery: Jim Leyland couldn’t write Miguel Cabrera into his lineup again, and he had to scratch Torii Hunter with his Achilles injury. Sitting Don Kelly and starting Ramon Santiago, though, was his decision. He said he went with hitting coach Lloyd McClendon’s feeling that the switch-hitting Santiago is swinging better from the right side. He didn’t do it all evening, but he got his double when he needed it.

Stat of the game: 3 — Number of games Detroit has won scoring two runs or less this season. The Tigers won four such games last regular season, plus one in the ALCS. They won seven such games in 2011.

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