During a recent session with the media, Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland broke into a smile.
“Nobody’s asking about Miggy at third base anymore,” he said.
The biggest offseason debate in the Motor City was about the Tigers’ decision to sign free-agent Prince Fielder, install him at first base and move Miguel Cabrera back to his original position, third base. Cabrera hadn’t played there since 2008, when he appeared at third in 14 games during his first season with the Tigers. He had been the Marlins’ primary third baseman the two previous seasons.
Since the season started, the Tigers’ biggest non-issue has been Cabrera’s return to third.
Oh, the Tigers have had their challenges.
A consensus favorite to win the American League Central, the Tigers went into Sunday with a 34-37 record, in third place in the division. They have not seen .500 since May 16 and first place since May 2.
Injuries have been an ongoing challenge, but Cabrera at third base? Scouts say he looks more comfortable at third than he did at first.
“Some people talk,” Cabrera said, “and some people play.
Cabrera, who sits second in the AL All-Star voting at third base behind Adrian Beltre of the Texas Rangers, is playing, and playing well. The argument can be made that he is as dangerous a hitter as there is in the big leagues right now.
He went into Sunday hitting .302, five points behind his new teammate Fielder. Cabrera has 15 home runs, four more than Fielder. With 56 RBI, he is second in the majors and has 11 more than Fielder. And get a load of this – he has the best fielding percentage (.962) among everyday third baseman in the American League.
That’s not to say he’s a Gold Glove candidate, but he has done a solid job.
No ‘I’ in team
There is an “m” and an “e” in team, and it’s about this time every season that the me-first pouting starts to emerge. Kevin Youkilis’ fued with Boston Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine over decreasing playing time is good for the talk-show business, but that’s about it.
Youkilis long has been considered a premier team guy. His verbal sparring with Valentine, however, brings back memories of the 25-players, 25-cab Boston Red Sox. Stuck in the middle of the controversy is rookie Will Middlebrooks, who has been impressive in his ability to ignore the off-field antics and stay focused on the field.
Middlebrooks is emerging as a challenger to outfielder Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels in the AL Rookie of the Year race. He has made his case for more regular playing time by hitting .331 with nine home runs and 33 RBI. In the past five games, when the verbal jousting has picked up between Youkilis and Valentine, Middlebrooks is 10 for 14 with nine RBI.
Youkilis, meanwhile, went into Sunday hitting .225 with four home runs and 13 RBI.
And it’s not that either player has had a lack of opportunity. Youkilis and Middlebrooks had 142 at-bats apiece through Saturday.
• Tampa Ray hitters aren’t intimidated. Since 2008, the Rays are 32-13 when facing a Cy Young Award winner. The list of opposition includes Bartolo Colon, Zack Greinke, Roy Halladay, Felix Hernandez, Cliff Lee, Jake Peavy, CC Sabathia, Johan Santana and Justin Verlander.
• Peavy is the first pitcher since Halladay in 2009 to lose two nine-inning complete games in a season. Peavy lost 2-1 to the Chicago Cubs on Tuesday and 1-0 to the Red Sox in April while pitching a full nine frames each time, according to stats guru Bill Arnold.
• Texas right-hander Yu Darvish has adapted well to The Ballpark at Arlington. He is 6-0 at home. And then there is Jered Weaver of the Angels, who is 5-0 with a 0.70 ERA in six starts at Angels Stadium.
• Jonathan Broxton has established that he has recovered fully from arm problems that led the Los Angeles Dodgers to let him go. Broxton went into Sunday with 18 saves in 21 opportunities for the Kansas City Royals, with a 1.57 ERA in 29 appearances.
• Sleeper on the trade market could be Minnesota Twins pitcher Francisco Liriano. The overall numbers aren’t pretty. He is 1-7 with a 5.74 ERA, but his season has had three distinct sections. Liriano opened the season in the rotation. After six starts, he was 0-5 with an 9.45 ERA, 19 walks and 21 strikeouts in 26-2/3 innings. Then came five relief appearances with so-so results. Back in the rotation, he is only 1-2 in five starts, but he has a 2.67 ERA and has walked only 12 while striking out 35 in 30- 1/3 innings.