Cabrera raises his average, spirits
Tigers third baseman turns it around after early struggles
LAKELAND, Fla. -- So much for Miguel Cabrera's early spring slump.
"I'm pretty comfortable now," he said. "I'm ready to start the season."
Then he broke into a smile. Whatever bout of nerves that weighed on him when games began seems to be gone now.
To be realistic, it was a matter of when, not whether Cabrera was going to hit. His track record in five Major League seasons showed what he can do with the bat once he makes the transition between leagues. Still, his slow start at the plate was the cause of some consternation on his part, and a little bit of concern on the manager's part to make sure he gets the at-bats to get going.
"He obviously doesn't have his timing," Tigers skipper Jim Leyland said Saturday after Cabrera's 0-for-3 performance dropped him to 3-for-21 this spring. "He needs to play."
Since then, Cabrera is 5-for-8 over his past three games, with two doubles and a home run to raise his average to .276 and raise his spirits in turn. Just as impressive, a lot of his hits -- and some of his outs -- are coming on hard-hit balls up the middle or to center.
"It's going to happen," Cabrera said. "When you start the season, Spring Training, your bat is going to be slow a little bit. You have to get it going a little bit every day to get timing. Hopefully, I get my timing before the season starts."
Tuesday's split-squad game at home was a good sign of where his timing seems to be already.
On a day when the Tigers put up big numbers through home runs again, Cabrera did his damage with smaller hits, but not soft ones. He led off the second inning against Reds starter Matt Maloney and smacked a hard bouncer over the mound that Cincinnati second baseman Jerry Hairston Jr. could only deflect behind the bag for a single. Carlos Guillen followed with his fourth home run of the spring to open the scoring.
After Cabrera grounded out to end the third inning, he came back up to lead off the sixth against Jon Coutlangus and immediately sent a ball down the left-field line and into the corner for a leadoff double.
He was lifted for a pinch-runner. With the standard three at-bats for regulars at this point in the Spring Training schedule, he had done his job for the day.
More than a sore quadriceps, Cabrera now admits he had a little case of the jitters earlier in camp. He arrived with plenty of fanfare and with a built-in support group thanks to star Venezuelan players Magglio Ordonez and Guillen as teammates. On the other hand, with teammates who are so accomplished, and with a city expecting so much, a mammoth home run more than midway up the center-field backdrop in the exhibition opener against Florida Southern College didn't help set the bar well.
He wanted to make a good impression badly enough that he got caught up in it.
"Sometimes you're going to be nervous when you're with a new team," he said. "You want to show what you can do. But you don't have to put pressure [on yourself]. You have to go do your thing and do extra work, try to get better every day, try to get to your point [where you're ready]."
He seems to be nearing that point now. He has put in extra work on his swing with hitting coach Lloyd McClendon to get there, on top of the fielding work he does with infield coach Rafael Belliard.
He wants this stretch to be the start of a building process for him in terms of momentum, where he gains a little more comfort and precision with each game until he's at his peak for Opening Day. But he's also trying to build a consistent approach.
"Every at-bat, my swing is more aggressive right now," he said. "In Spring Training, you'll hit for two games and then the next game, you'll slow down."
The last few days, he likes what he sees. So do quite a few others.
"I'm getting a few at-bats, getting a good approach and seeing what I'm doing," he said. "I'm working hard. We'll see what's going to happen."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.