By Ashley Dunkak
After half a century around baseball, very little surprises Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland. It speaks volumes, then, when the only adjective Leyland can muster to encompass what slugger Miguel Cabrera is doing is “unbelievable.”
Cabrera has struggled with a strained hip flexor – stemming from an abdominal injury – that makes it difficult for him to run but has not affected his swing. In fact, not only has Cabrera continued to hit well, he has blasted six home runs in the past eight games. If he has made an emphasis on the long ball, it would not be evident from his .360 batting average, by far the highest in the game.
All the slugger’s statistics are staggering, from his astoundingly high on-base plus slugging percentage (1.138) to his impressively minimal strikeouts (74 through 111 games), prompting new national analysis every week. Even Leyland is amazed.
“I’ve never seen performance like this or last year from any one player that I managed,” Leyland said. “I’ve never seen it. It’s unbelievable. And I think this last week or so has been one of the most unbelievable things I’ve seen. I just don’t know how to put it in words. I don’t know how to describe it, but it sure is fun watching it.”
That Cabrera has stayed on his ridiculous pace of hitting and hitting for power even while dealing with injury – he sat out six games in July and two this month – is unprecedented. Leyland has given him the opportunity to rest, but on most occasions, Cabrera does not want to rest. Watching him lumber uncomfortably after balls at third base, though, is difficult.
“It’s a tough situation,” Leyland said. “Sometimes I feel bad when I see him have to run the way he is, but he wants to go out there, he wants to play. I gave him the chance to have a day off yesterday. He didn’t want to take it, and I guess I’m glad he didn’t.”
In the game Wednesday, the one Leyland offered to have Cabrera rest, the slugger hit a three-run homer, his 38th of the season. He now has 114 RBIs, staying ahead of the Baltimore Orioles’ Chris Davis by a slim margin. More importantly, his homer Wednesday made the difference in the Tigers’ 6-4 win over the Chicago White Sox.
Cabrera’s difficulty in the infield, though, is something the Tigers might have to address, especially because the impending five-game series with Kansas City could either give Detroit an unassailable lead or enable the Royals to get uncomfortably close.
“You’ve got to figure out when to pull the trigger as far to pinch run or maybe get him out of there for defense,” Leyland said. “Yesterday, he was going to hit in that ninth inning. That’s a little bit different. You’ve got to be careful with that. It’s hard to take him out of there because things happen fast up here.”
However, Leyland said Cabrera’s abdominal injury seems to be getting better.
“The stomach is actually getting a little bit better, the stomach muscle,” Leyland said. “Really it’s where he hit the ball of his shin and his knee in New York that’s been bothering him the most. That was a little bit better yesterday, obviously.”
Leyland did say the coaching staff has considered the possibility of putting designated hitter Victor Martinez at third base for a day and letting Cabrera take a day off defense while keeping his bat in the lineup. He said that would only happen in an emergency situation, if Cabrera was hurting and could not play the infield.
For now, though, Cabrera is still playing, and for opposing pitchers, there still appears to be no solution.