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Jim Leyland may be darned if he does and darned if he doesn’t when it comes to Miguel Cabrera.
The Detroit Tigers’ medical staff has told Leyland that playing Cabrera is unlikely to interrupt the healing process for what has been described as an abdominal strain.
“The question I had for [the trainer] is, ‘Am I taking a chance of injuring him by playing him, or will it get better by him playing as long as something freaky doesn’t happen?’ And the answer was that he can play the way he’s playing and it will still get better,” Leyland said earlier this week in Cleveland.
What the Tigers’ manager is being told may conflict, however, with his private thoughts and gut feelings.
Leyland has watched his star player pull up on the basepaths and has seen Cabrera swallow the instinct to dive right or left for hard-hit grounders near third base.
He also held his breath on Tuesday when Cabrera doubled off the wall and was forced to propel his 6-4, 240-pound frame into a hard slide at second base. That play produced Miggy’s 700th RBI as a Tiger and gave him 10 straight seasons with 100 or more runs batted in.
Despite recently missing eight starts, Cabrera’s accomplishment “beat the kids back to school,” said Leyland. “What did I see; that he’s the sixth player in history to do it 10 straight years? That’s really impressive.”
As for the slide into second, Leyland said, “I didn’t expect him to pop up and head for third but, yeah, he looked comfortable doing it, and I was happy to see it.”
He was also happy to see Cabrera’s tape-measure home run Wednesday that changed the complexion of the game, vaulting the Tigers into a 4-3 lead in the top of the eighth.
Then the skipper did something that almost backfired. Indicating his cautious approach to Cabrera’s health, he yanked him from the lineup for a defensive replacement.
“My star wouldn't have come out of the game if he was healthy," Leyland said afterward. “[Cabrera] came out of the game because we all thought it was best to have our better defense in there with the way he's been feeling. He’s not 100 percent by any means. He's not moving real good. We can see that."
As it turned out, the Indians tied the game in the bottom of the eighth and the teams played 14 innings before Detroit won. The star’s spot in the batting order came to the plate three more times in the person of infield sub Hernan Perez.
So Leyland is sometimes darned if he does, darned if he doesn’t.
“That’s a pretty good No. 3 hitter the other teams [have] to contend with,” Leyland said of Cabrera in something of an understatement. “You don’t want to take him out of there unless you have to. And if we have to, fine. We’re not going to do anything to risk injury to Miguel Cabrera.”
It’s a good policy even if the potential exists for it to sometimes backfire.
Cabrera may not notch a second straight Triple Crown — Chris Davis of the Orioles has an eight-homer edge — but he has a healthy margin in the batting race and is jockeying with Davis for the RBI lead.
He is certainly the favorite for a second straight MVP award.
Yes, a pretty good No. 3 hitter, indeed.
Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6398.
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