Miguel Cabrera, Tigers downplay infield shakeup

Tim Brown
Yahoo! Sports

KISSIMMEE, Fla. – One major-league exhibition game into the re-repositioning of Miguel Cabrera (Prince Fielder edition), here is what we know about Miggy at third base:

He is a large man. Not as large as Miggy at first base, but still plenty large.

He blows a solid bubble.

He maintains a smooth and pebble-free workstation.

He tends to come forward when little guys hit and move back when big guys hit.

He pounds his glove a lot, which could suggest some anxiety on his part over the position change.

Or, a new glove that needs breaking in.

I'm thinking it's the glove.

Cabrera and the Detroit Tigers rolled Saturday afternoon toward Orlando, an old Creek word for "Land of the Hesitant Minivan."

In the shadow of Disney World, the day's greatest attraction may have been Cabrera at third base, Fielder at first, and Brandon Inge at second, as the defending AL Central champs rethought, remade and/or restructured three-quarters of their infield.

Born of Victor Martinez's knee injury, the falling dominos tinkled across owner Mike Ilitch's soul, then to general manager Dave Dombrowski's desk, and finally to manager Jim Leyland's first official lineup of spring.

Only shortstop Jhonny Peralta (whom many view as more suited for third) stayed put.

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Now, of course, the relocation of Cabrera and its potential drag on the Tigers' team defense has led to some consternation. We are in a time when all decisions are judged to lead unswervingly to doom.

After one day, the Tigers survived it just fine, which will mean nothing come April. The metrics will show that Fielder is no Cabrera at first, that Cabrera is no Inge at third, and that Inge isn't much of a hitter, no matter where he plays.

Inge did, however, make two terrific plays against the Atlanta Braves, both to his backhand side; his glove plays anywhere.

As for Cabrera, he clearly believes the regular work at third base, his first since 2007 when he was still a Florida Marlin, will be a non-issue for himself and the club. He arrived in camp fit and eager. And then, over five innings Saturday, not a single ball was batted in his direction. It is a subtle yet effective strategy.

"No!," Cabrera exclaimed afterward. "So lucky!"

He was, of course, joking.

It is likely the Tigers will have enough pitching and offense to misplay or fail to reach a few balls and still win the division by plenty. Fielder rolled out of winter hitting line drives. Cabrera is the best right-handed hitter in the game. And the two of them back-to-back is plenty worth the defensive risk, even if the glove work on the corners (and, perhaps, at shortstop) is limited to the step-and-dive variety.

Only a couple years ago, the San Francisco Giants paraded a World Series trophy on a cable car, after all, and their defense had the range of a cement mixer.

"If you read what I said for the last day or two," Leyland said, "I said I didn't think defense was going to be an issue."

End of story. Or, at least, end of questions about the story.

Yeah, the topic is getting a bit musty in their clubhouse already, and they've played all of nine innings.

Cabrera seemed cranky about it pregame. "It's not a challenge," he insisted. "They asked me to do it. You've got to be flexible. We're here to win games. The challenge is something we want to do to win games."

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In spite of his new area, Cabrera still has plenty of first base in him. When Eric Hinske reached first base with two out, it was Cabrera who waved to the coaching staff, asking if Fielder should hold Hinske or play behind him.

And Inge, a terrific athlete, called Peralta to his locker pregame in order to go through his peripheral responsibilities as a second baseman. Like, if there's a baserunner here, and the ball goes there, then I stand where again?

Over a decade in the big leagues, Inge has been a catcher, third baseman, left fielder, center fielder and right fielder, and he grew up a shortstop.

"You'll be all right," Peralta told him.

"No, I'm fine," Inge said. "Just want to make sure."

Then Inge, who'd mow the lawn if it meant getting on the field, made a diving catch to end the second inning and a rangy stop and flip to end the fourth.

"Everyone's making adjustments," he said. "People have to make compromises sometimes in order to become a good ballclub. A lot of teams have so many prima donnas they won't do that. Here, there hasn't been one complaint from anyone on any side of this."

This won't ever be perfect. It hardly ever is. But Cabrera is nimble enough to be a reasonable defender at third and that's all the Tigers will need.

In fact, it'll be plenty.

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