By PAUL NEWBERRY/AP Sports Writer
KISSIMMEE, Fla. (AP) – The first game of spring training can provide some unusual scenarios.
Such as Detroit slugger Miguel Cabrera facing Atlanta closer Craig Kimbrel – in the third inning.
Coming off baseball’s first Triple Crown season since 1967, Cabrera grounded out against Kimbrel before finishing his day with a drive to the warning track in center field, not a factor as the Tigers beat the Braves 2-1 Friday in the opening exhibition game of the year between big league teams.
Cabrera, who led the AL with 44 homers, 139 RBIs and a .330 average, got a chance to pose with Mickey and Minnie Mouse before batting practice, a nod to the game being played at the Braves’ Disney World complex. Then, to chants of “MVP! MVP!” from the stands, he grounded out in the first against Tim Hudson.
In the third, Kimbrel took over for Hudson and promptly walked the first two hitters. The closer fanned Quinton Berry and got Omar Infante on a flyout before Cabrera stepped in again.
Kimbrel, coming off a season with 42 saves, 1.01 ERA and 116 strikeouts in 62 2-3 innings, doled out a steady stream of fastballs in the mid-90s. One of them went all the way to the backstop, allowing the runners to move up, but Cabrera grounded a 3-2 pitch to shortstop Andrelton Simmons that ended the threat.
“It’s a little different than rolling out there in the ninth inning,” Kimbrel said. “But I was just getting in my work.”
Both Cabrera (Venezuela) and Kimbrel (United States) will soon be leaving camp to play in the World Baseball Classic. They could wind up facing each other with a lot more on the line.
“I might see him here in a few weeks,” Kimbrel said. “I’m happy to get through the inning.”
Justin and B.J. Upton made their Atlanta spring training debuts. The brothers both went 0 for 2, then scooted out of the clubhouse before the media was allowed in.
The Uptons are part of a new era for the Braves, who must replace retired third baseman Chipper Jones, a stalwart for nearly two decades in the middle of the order. B.J. was signed as a free agent to a $75.25 million, five-year contract, while Justin was acquired in a blockbuster deal with Arizona.
“We do have a lot of new faces,” said right fielder Jason Heyward, who started alongside the Uptons in one of baseball’s most touted outfield trios. “We just want to get a feel of things, talking and communicating.”
The Tigers were hitless through seven innings but went ahead in the eighth, long after the starters had departed. Tyler Collins tripled to right-center off Ryan Buchter, and Jeff Kobernus followed with another triple to nearly the same spot. Hernan Perez’s sacrifice fly brought home Kobernus.
Joey Terdoslavich homered for Atlanta in the ninth, and Ramiro Pena nearly tied it with a drive that was hauled in against the wall in left. Jose Alvarez retired Ernesto Mejia on a grounder with the potential tying run on base, earning the save.
The win went to Jose Ortega, who threw a scoreless seventh. Buchter took the loss, surrendering three of Detroit’s four hits in his lone inning.
“I’m not too concerned about the first game, but we played well,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “We played well defensively, and our pitchers threw strikes for the most part.”
In the seventh, Collins stretched out to make a diving catch in left-center, perhaps saving a run. Kobernus also made a slick grab that same inning. In addition, the Tigers threw out two runners attempting to steal second.
“You want to make a good impression,” said Kobernus, who played last season in the Double-A Eastern League. “But it’s just one game. Yeah, I had a decent game. But it’s a new game tomorrow.”
Both starters – Hudson and Detroit’s Rick Porcello – threw two scoreless innings.
“I didn’t blow anything out and I didn’t limp off the mound,” Hudson quipped. “That’s always a good day.”
(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)