Detroit slugger Miguel Cabrera not letting variety of vague ailments bring him down

Tim Brown

OAKLAND, Calif. – Miguel Cabrera, everybody's favorite "Miggy," was in some kind of good mood here Thursday afternoon. It's not often he isn't. It is worth noting, however, that this is the guy carrying the game's biggest bat into the postseason. And whose groin/abdomen/hip ailment(s) – it is all a tiny bit mysterious – aren't all aligned/healthy/working quite right. And, so, had to have had something to do with him posting a .729 OPS in September, his lowest over a calendar month in nine years.

Folks around the Detroit Tigers will tell you Cabrera's physical issues limit him only while running, and then point out that part of Cabrera's genius is in stringing together three consecutive batting titles with the foot speed of, if not a Molina, a distant cousin. So, if he didn't have it then and was the best right-handed hitter many had ever seen, and doesn't have it now but doesn't really need it anyway, what're we supposed to make of one home run (and one other extra-base hit) since Aug. 26?

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Well, it's the groin/abdomen/hip, of course. Over the final week of the season, Cabrera batted .391, drove the ball to right and right-center fields occasionally, and then had to stop at first because of, yes, the fact he now runs like he's on one tire and one rim.

"Media time!" Cabrera announced as he walked into a news conference attended by anyone who wanted to be sure Cabrera wouldn't have to be wheeled in.

"Hello," he said with a sweet grin and meant it. You could tell because he said it again. "Hello!" he said for anyone who missed it the first time. If he's in terrible pain, and his manager, Jim Leyland, assures us he is, then it has not darkened his mood.

Cabrera's Tigers and the Oakland A's begin their best-of-five division series Friday night at Coliseum. The last we saw of the AL Central-champion Tigers, their JV team was being no-hit in Miami. In the two games before that, however, Cabrera had four hits in seven at-bats. Cabrera didn't play Sunday, so whatever might be wrong in the area of his groin/abdomen/hip will have had six days of rest by the first pitch of Game 1.

"I think it's over now," Leyland said, "but I think for a while it was tough for Miguel to use his lower half to hit, and most good hitters use the lower half and he uses it as good as anybody. I think it did hinder him for a while. … He is getting better, but he's nowhere near 100 percent."

Cabrera stretched with his teammates Thursday afternoon, then took batting practice in the second group, and worked the right center-field gap relentlessly. Be sure of this: When Leyland thumbtacks his lineup to the clubhouse board, Cabrera will be playing third base and batting third against A's starter Bartolo Colon. (In Leyland's only surrender, he said he would pinch-run for Cabrera in the later innings and risk losing Cabrera's bat in an extended game.)

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That's because Cabrera has the ability to carry back, hip flexor, lower abdomen, shin and groin ailments through a baseball season and still be the best hitter in the game. Few have hands as quick as his in the batter's box. Few get inside the ball as he does in the batter's box. And nobody gets his results. Through a season in which he might never have been pain-free, he batted .348, hit 44 home runs and drove in 137 runs. He is exceptional. That is why the Tigers were outscored only by the Boston Red Sox, and why he can change a series over 20 at-bats, and why the fate of the Tigers in this division series could lie in his bat and therefore his health.

He said he felt OK. He said the time off has helped. He said he hoped he felt better by Friday. The games will tell.

"Yesterday in batting practice I felt better," he said, "and I'm positive tomorrow is going to be good. I'm going to be OK. And hopefully I can play 100 percent."

Asked about the time off, he grinned and said, "After the season we can let it rest."

The goal is to get his groin/abdomen/hip through as much as he can. The goal is division/league championship/world series. He's a tough guy, and so talented. He's gotten this far. What's another month?