By: Will Burchfield
They all said he wasn’t injured. They all said he looked fine.
Then Miguel Cabrera talked and the truth came tumbling out.
Are you hurting, Miguel?
“I mean, my back,” Cabrera said with a grimace, “since the World Baseball Classic when I hurt my back, I can’t get it out of the way. It’s something I gotta deal with every day. But I’m not going to stop playing or make an excuse.”
“My back, my hip flexor, my groin,” he said, laughing now at the way he was listing off body parts like days of the week. “That’s a big part of our body to hit the ball.”
Despite his aches and pains – not to mention his slow start to the season – Cabrera had reason to be happy on Thursday night. He drilled a walk-off home run to lift the Tigers to a 5-3 win over the Rays. It was his first long ball since May 20.
How big was this?
“I mean, big. First of all, was long time since I hit a home run. Second, we need to play better and win more games,” he said.
The Tigers, 31-34, haven’t won as much as they’d like to largely because Cabrera hasn’t produced as much he’d like to. Through 52 games, he’s hitting .280 with six home runs, 31 RBI and an .823 OPS.
Solid numbers for most players. Well below par for Miggy. Given his litany of injuries and impediments, it suddenly all makes sense.
But Cabrera isn’t interested in crutches, neither literal nor symbolic.
“I mean, I don’t want to say I don’t hit because I got (an injury). I don’t want to put up an excuse. It’s like I said, you gotta stop being sorry for yourself because you got (injured) and don’t hit. You still gotta go out there and play hard. That’s it,” Cabrera said.
He’s done resting. He’s done sitting out. He already spent 10 days on the disabled list in April with a strained groin and missed two more games in May with a sore oblique.
“I went on the DL, 10 days, then when I hurt my oblique I got rest enough. That’s not going away, so it’s something I gotta deal with,” he said.
Cabrera, 34, said some days are better than others, the pain chronic if not always severe. But he never wakes up questioning whether he’ll be able to play.
“No, no, no. I mean, I play with a broken foot (in 2014),” he said, breaking into another big smile. “If I’m able to go out there and do my job, I’m gonna do it.”
As tough as this season has been physically for Cabrera, so has it been a battle mentally. He isn’t used to slumping for so long. He isn’t used to putting up such pedestrian numbers.
“He wants to succeed,” said Brad Ausmus. “Miggy takes a lot of pride in being one of the best players in the game, and when you take pride in that obviously it can affect you at times.”
“I don’t know if I would call it frustration,” he added later. “I think he expects more from himself.”
The home run drought was weighing particularly heavy on Miggy’s mind. When his walk-off blast left his bat on Friday night, he admitted he thought the right fielder might catch it.
“The way this season’s going, you never know,” he said.
It’s been a strange season indeed. Even Cabrera’s hard-hit balls have seemed to result in outs. (Maybe he and Nicholas Castellanos can grab drinks.) On top of being hurt, it’s fair to say he’s been unlucky.
Meanwhile, the Tigers are spinning their tires, stuck below .500 nearly 70 games into the season.
Is that beginning to wear on you?
“I really don’t know. We gotta try to figure out how to win more games, man. We know we got a good team, we know we got good talent in this clubhouse, so let’s put it together and win more games,” said Cabrera.
To do that, they’ll need their best hitter to lead the way. There is no hiding from that truth, just as there is no hiding from this one: Miggy is all kinds of banged up. Ausmus swore he was fine. Cabrera’s teammates did too. Maybe they didn’t know; more likely they were covering for him.
Either way, it’s once again up to Miggy to start covering for them.