August 30th, 2013

Cabrera leaves game after two innings

For the second time in as many days, Miguel Cabrera left a game with injury. This time, he lasted two innings of Friday’s series opener against Cleveland before exiting with what the team announced as irritation in his abdominal area.

Cabrera is listed as day-to-day. The way his weekend is going, it is becoming a daily question whether Cabrera can play through his ailment.

Cabrera left Thursday afternoon’s series finale against Oakland with abdominal discomfort that extended to the groin area. It’s an aggravation of an abdominal strain that has bothered him for close to two months.

Cabrera said after Thursday’s game that he planned on starting Friday. True to his word, he was back in the Tigers’ starting lineup for the series opener against the Indians, batting third and playing third base.

Manager Jim Leyland said before the game that he checked with Cabrera Friday afternoon before writing him into the starting lineup, and Cabrera was all smiles.

“Believe me, if he can’t play, he won’t play,” Leyland said. “He’s fine. He’s hurting some. I checked with him today. He’s ready to go. He’s sore. That’s the way it is.”

Cabrera struck out swinging to end the first inning, and he did not have a play to make in the field in either of the first two innings. He went after a Lonnie Chisenhall pop fly in foul territory to end the second inning, but shortstop Jose Iglesias ran it down and caught it.

When the Tigers took the field for the top of the third, Cabrera didn’t come out of the dugout. Don Kelly, who started the game in left field, replaced Cabrera at third, with Andy Dirks entering the game in left.

On Thursday, it was an acceleration around first base, trying to stretch a fifth-inning single into a double, that led to Cabrera aggravating the injury.

“You have to be willing to accept what it is, and we’re willing to accept it,” Leyland said. “The only thing he can’t do is he can’t run. He still catches the ball at third. He still throws them out. He still hits the ball over the fence. He’s still gets hits. He still knocks in runs. He’s handicapped a little bit physically, but nobody in here or any place else in the organization would risk hurting a guy long term if he didn’t feel he was ready to play.”

The Tigers entered Friday with a 6 1/2-game lead on Cleveland in the American League Central. A larger lead with 25 games left to play after the weekend might be enough to start looking into rest for the slugger. The team medical staff told Leyland that Cabrera can’t worsen the injury by playing through it, but his recent issues clearly suggest he isn’t getting any better, either.

“If he needs a day, he’ll get it,” Leyland said. “If he needs two days or three days, whenever it is, big series, little series, whatever you want to call it.”

The Tigers seem to be readying their options. Matt Tuiasosopo, who played third base in Spring Training with Cabrera in the World Baseball Classic, worked out at third base during batting practice Friday. Leyland, meanwhile, said he might use Cabrera at designated hitter for a game and put Victor Martinez at catcher, where he played well for two games against the Mets last week.

The Tigers will be able to call up reinforcements on Sunday, when 25-man roster expands and anyone on the 40-man roster can be active. Utility infielder Danny Worth has been playing some third base at Triple-A Toledo.

Friday’s lineups: Tigers vs. Indians

Miguel Cabrera is indeed in the Tigers lineup, playing third base. Don Kelly gets the start in left field.

TIGERS (career numbers off McAllister)

  1. Austin Jackson, CF (4-for-7, 2 walks, 3 K’s)
  2. Torii Hunter, RF (2-for-7, 2 K’s)
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 3B (4-for-12, walk, K)
  4. Prince Fielder, 1B (4-for-10, walk, 2 K’s)
  5. Victor Martinez, DH (3-for-7, 2 K’s)
  6. Don Kelly, LF (2-for-5, 2 walks, K)
  7. Alex Avila, C (1-for-6, 3 K’s)
  8. Omar Infante, 2B (0-for-5)
  9. Jose Iglesias, SS

P: Rick Porcello

INDIANS (career numbers off Porcello)

  1. Michael Bourn, CF (1-for-6, 2 K’s)
  2. Nick Swisher, 1B (7-for-27, HR, 3 walks, 8 K’s)
  3. Jason Kipnis, 2B (7-for-23, HR, 3 walks, 4 K’s)
  4. Carlos Santana, DH (10-for-31, 3 HR, 3 walks, 7 K’s)
  5. Michael Brantley, LF (7-for-31, HR, 3 walks, 2 K’s)
  6. Asdrubal Cabrera, SS (13-for-39, 3 walks, 3 K’s)
  7. Yan Gomes, C (3-for-6, K)
  8. Lonnie Chisenhall, 3B (2-for-12, 2 K’s)
  9. Drew Stubbs, RF (1-for-5, 2 K’s)

P: Zach McAllister

Game 134: Thursday’s comeback, and Cabrera’s early departure

So to recap, the Tigers came within an out — within a strike, in Victor Martinez’s case — of being swept in a four-game series at home for the first time since 2004 and reviving memories of the Labor Day series in Kansas City in 2009 that started that late-season collapse. They not only pulled out the win with a four-run ninth inning, they added onto their AL Central lead when Cleveland was swept in Atlanta. As an amazing result, Detroit has a half-game bigger lead coming out of this four-game set than it did coming in. The Tigers are 10-11 since they swept a four-game series in Cleveland, yet they’ve lost just a half game off their lead in that stretch as they prepare to welcome the Indians to town for a three-game weekend set.

Their biggest comeback of the season until Thursday was a 4-0 deficit they faced after one inning in Toronto July 2, a deficit they erased with a six-run second inning that included a three-run homer from Miguel Cabrera. They had just three wins when trailing in the ninth inning (two of them via Alex Avila home runs on the road), and just four games in which they scored more than two runs in the ninth. Their other four-run ninth was the Chris Perez meltdown in Cleveland, fueled in large part by Avila’s three-run homer.

Thursday’s rally erased what was once a 6-1 deficit, and it came without any role from Miguel Cabrera. And yet as scary as the sight of him limping off the field looked, his banged-up left leg clearly a problem once again, he expects to play Friday.

“I’ll play tomorrow,” he said after the game. “Don’t worry.”

He made the reason plainly clear.

“Cleveland, bro,” he said.

So to recap, what looked like a worst-case scenario for the Tigers after five innings Thursday looks now like a charmed life. And if Detroit can get its pitching back in order against a Cleveland lineup that scored just three runs over 27 innings in Atlanta, the Tigers could head into the final four weeks of the season with an even bigger division lead than it had coming out of Cleveland a few weeks ago. And as much as the Indians’ September schedule has been touted as easy, they and the Tigers play the exact same number of games against teams over .500: nine of their final 25, six of them against a Royals that has been teetering wildly around the .500 mark for the past couple weeks.

Which raises a side question:

At what point, if ever, do the Tigers consider resting Cabrera in September?

If the Tigers’ division crown is set, but Cabrera’s Triple Crown is still up in the air, would Cabrera — or the Tigers, or Major League Baseball — want him to sit?

The medical information coming from the Tigers has been consistent: Cabrera can’t make his injuries worse by playing. Still, Cabrera was favoring his troublesome left leg as he limped off the field Thursday, having tried to stretch a single into a double and spark a rally that eventually happened without him.

The diagnosis is abdominal discomfort, in this case extending into a groin injury.

“You don’t feel very comfortable when you see any of your players that might be hurt or in pain,” Leyland said. “But at least I knew what this was right off the bat. We have a pretty good idea that’s an aggravation of it.”

It’s an aggravation of the injury that has bothered him for close to two months, but at this point, it’s the same day-to-day diagnosis he has had all along.

The combination of Don Kelly replacing Cabrera at third base, Matt Tuiasosopo entering the game in Cabrera’s spot, and later Torii Hunter pinch-hitting for Kelly, left the Tigers with an interesting setup at the end. Tuiasosopo was playing third base, something he did a lot in Spring Training (he actually didn’t play much left field until his hot start at the plate put him into the conversation for the Opening Day roster) but something Leyland said a few weeks ago he’d only do now in an emergency late-game situation. If Leyland can count on Don Kelly at third, and he can use Tuiasosopo at third, it gives him options to get by. It’s not something you’d want to do with a division race on the line, but we’ll see.

That’s the team side. Then there’s the individual side. Cabrera has a 28-point lead in the batting race and enough plate appearances that he can miss some games and still qualify for his third consecutive batting crown. He has a nine-RBI lead for Baltimore’s Chris Davis, who leads him in home runs by four. The Orioles are in a scrum for the AL East and Wild Card, which means Davis is going to play. Unless he has an absolutely horrendous September, it’s very difficult to envision Cabrera winning the Triple Crown without playing all the time down the stretch, even if the Tigers wrap up a division title early.

On the other hand, it’s impossible to envision the Tigers getting back to the World Series without Cabrera as his usual threat. His presence and his potential shape how opposing pitchers approach the entire Tigers lineup. This much is obvious. So what do you do?

How the Tigers handle September call-ups could say a lot before we get to that point. Every indication right now remains that they don’t want to call up guys who won’t play a role here. Nick Castellanos isn’t making the trip unless the Tigers have a plan to get him playing time. It won’t come at third base, no matter what Cabrera’s situation is. But could it come in the outfield if Kelly and Tuiasosopo become options at third?

Leyland said Thursday morning, before Cabrera aggravated his injury, that their plans on September call-ups are pretty well set.