By: Will Burchfield

Ron Gardenhire doesn’t need this kind of stress, not in spring training, not when the games don’t matter.

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The Tigers manager had to hold his breath a bit on Sunday afternoon when Miguel Cabrera, whose body was wracked by injuries in 2017, took off from second base on a single into left field, blew through a stop sign at third and slid hard into home plate trying to beat the throw. He didn’t, not that Gardenhire cared.

What mattered was that Cabrera got up and dusted himself off, no worse for the wear.

The Tigers need to keep the soon-to-be-35-year-old healthy this season. Maneuvers like the one Cabrera pulled on Sunday, even if well-intentioned, aren’t worth the risk.

“As soon as the ball was hit I could tell there was no way he was going to stop at third, and in all honesty, sometimes with the bigger guys it might be harder for them to stop than keep going,” Gardenhire told 97.1 The Ticket. “But we don’t want to see that happen too often, if at all. We don’t want him to get hurt sliding into home plate, especially early in spring training, so we had this whole conversation and he was great.

“He came up (to me) and (said) he knew exactly what he was trying to do there, and my first base coach said he’ll tackle him next time. We’re all good.”

That would be Ramon Santiago, the former Tigers infielder who joined the team’s coaching staff shortly after Gardenhire was hired last October. Santiago and Cabrera were teammates from 2008-2013. Cabrera is about a half foot taller and more than 50 pounds heavier, but Santiago seems prepared to do whatever it takes to keep Cabrera on the field.

Dismissing stop signs at third is common for Cabrera, a routine that’s innocently chalked up as Classic Miggy. But Cabrera isn’t coming off a classic-Miggy year. Hampered by a crippling back injury that trickled down to his hip flexor and groin, Cabrera played in just 130 games in 2017, the second fewest of his career, and hit .249 with 16 home runs and 60 RBI. He turns 35 in April and he’s signed through the 2023 season.

Unsurprisngly, the Tigers want him to be cautious with his body this spring. On the flip side, Cabrera is curious to see how far he can push it. After his little adventure on Sunday he sought out Gardenhire in the dugout.

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“He came right over and said, ‘I know he was stopping me, I just felt like I wanted to see where I was at running,’” Gardenhire said.

“I got you,” Gardenhire replied.

He added, “But understand that the third-base coach (Dave Clark) has a job to do, and when something like that happens the manager can get after him, too. Make sure you talk to him and explain to him what’s going on.’”

Cabrera did, of course. And Clark, entering his fifth season as the team’s third-base coach, likely already understood. No biggie.

“Those are just easy situations to handle,” Gardenhire said.

Plus, part of the skipper liked seeing his star veteran show some gusto in spring training.

“He’s been excited, he’s been doing all the drills, running around all over the place. He’s trying to score from second on a base hit and he gets thrown out and says, ‘I just wanted to see how much I could get away with.'” (It’s easy to imagine Cabrera saying so with a wink and a grin.) “You know what?” Gardenhire said. “I love it.

“You got a big guy like him and he wants to get after it, the other guys should just take notice of that, which they do. He’s swinging good, he feels good. We have to keep it.”

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And Cabrera, should he be inclined to attempt another risky play on the bases, will have to keep his eyes peeled for Santiago, who just might have the big man lined up.