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Published: Saturday, 2/16/2013

Looking for an encore

Tigers hope Cabrera as good as 2012

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Detroit's Miguel Cabrera won the batting triple crown last season and was named the American League MVP. Detroit's Miguel Cabrera won the batting triple crown last season and was named the American League MVP.
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Detroit's Miguel Cabrera hoping for more of the same with the bat after Triple Crown season

LAKELAND, Fla. — Since there's no Quadruple Crown in baseball, it will be awfully tough for Miguel Cabrera to top his performance from 2012.

The Detroit slugger puts plenty of pressure on himself to help the Tigers win, but when it comes to individual achievements, his approach is pretty low key.

"I always believe you can be consistent," he said. "I don't know if you're going to get better, but my goal is always to be consistent."

Cabrera has made that look startlingly easy. Last year, he became baseball's first Triple Crown winner in 45 years — and incredibly, his batting average was actually 14 points higher the season before. He's hit below .320 only once in the last eight years, and hit under 30 home runs once in the last nine.

There are no sure things in a sport as fickle as baseball, but Cabrera's contributions are becoming almost routine.

"Taking for granted is probably not the right choice of words, but I know he's going to do good — I'm pretty sure of that," manager Jim Leyland said. "I think you just really gain an appreciation for how good these guys are — major league players — and when you see one that's a special, special player ... we're pretty fortunate."

The Tigers held their first full-squad workout Friday on a wet morning in Lakeland, ending a busy offseason for Cabrera. It started late because Detroit reached the World Series last year, and after Cabrera hit .330 with 44 home runs and 139 RBIs to win the Triple Crown and the American League MVP, there were interviews and other attention to deal with.

Even spring training will be different than usual because of next month's World Baseball Classic. That interruption means it's more important than usual for Cabrera, a Venezuelan, to get a lot of work in early.

Last season, Cabrera moved from first base to third, and there is still a lot he'd like to improve defensively.

"Try to get better in the first step — side to side, to slow groundballs," he said.

At the plate, of course, Cabrera has no obvious weaknesses. His powerful, compact right-handed swing can do just about anything to pitches all over the strike zone. He homered onto a camera platform beyond center field in a game last June against the New York Yankees. The following month, his 300th career homer went sailing toward the ivy in that same area of Comerica Park.

But there are also more subtle features in his swing.

"Last year, I went through a little funk," said outfielder Torii Hunter, who signed with the Tigers this offseason. "I watched video on him, how he stays inside the ball and everything. So I went out there and tried it, and I was like 3-for-4 for four days."

Cabrera can apparently stay close to midseason form for 12 months a year.

"I remember when he left to go to Venezuela," catcher Alex Avila said. "I read in the paper that he wins the home run derby at their All-Star game. It's been like a month and a half since the season ended, and he hasn't hit at all, and just goes and wins a home run derby like that. It's incredible."

The biggest goal for Cabrera and his teammates is a World Series title. Cabrera homered once in an otherwise forgettable loss to San Francisco last year — the Giants swept the series in four games. If the Tigers reach the postseason again, he'll probably be the most feared hitter in their lineup — as usual.

His remarkable exploits have become the norm, but Cabrera can still amaze.

"That's the perfect swing," Hunter said. "To pull the ball, it's easy. But to hit the ball to right-center out of the park, that's hard, and he's probably one of the best at it."



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