DETROIT — The Tigers always expected Miguel Cabrera, who underwent "core muscle repair" surgery on Oct. 29, to be ready in time for spring training.
But, according to Tigers head athletic trainer Kevin Rand, Cabrera’s rehabilitation has gone so well, he’s already cleared for "full baseball activity" — seven weeks before Detroit’s full squad reports for spring training Feb. 17.
"Miggy completed his rehabilitation in South Florida before going home to Venezuela," Rand said in a phone interview from Lakeland. "He was 100-percent ready to resume baseball activity at the end of December.
"He’s now doing strength and conditioning for the season, and is ready to go."
Dr. Bill Meyers performed the surgery on Cabrera in Philadelphia. Meyers also did similar surgery on All-Star pitcher Justin Verlander on Jan. 9.
Rand said Meyers was called upon for the same surgery with retired Tigers All-Star right fielder Magglio Ordonez in 2005. So the team has entrusted Meyers with repairing a former batting champion, and now the 2011 American League MVP in Verlander and 2012-13 AL MVP in Cabrera.
"He’s the best," Rand said. "Meyers is just the best."
Verlander won’t be ready to go full-bore when pitchers and catchers report on Feb. 13, but Rand is optimistic that Verlander will be ready to take his spot in the rotation when the season opens against the Kansas City Royals on March 31 in Detroit.
"He did the rehabilitation in Philadelphia," Rand said, "and he’s doing really well. They got him going real well.
"We will re-evaluate Justin in six weeks and see where he’s at."
He’s now doing strength and conditioning for the season, and is ready to go.
Tigers trainer Kevin Rand on the health of slugger Miguel Cabrera
Rand said Verlander’s injury occurred from a wearing-down process to an abductor muscle located high on Verlander’s inner thigh.
Verlander generally goes through a demanding physical-conditioning program in Lakeland that begins several weeks after seasons conclude. He was termed a "horse" by Tigers manager Jim Leyland, and led the AL in innings pitched in three of the last five seasons with a seven consecutive 200-inning seasons.
Verlander’s also logged 93 1/3 innings in postseason play during his career. He hasn’t been on the disabled list since breaking into the majors in 2005.
The big right-hander has very strong legs, and often credits his intense conditioning for enabling him to get stronger as seasons reach October. I asked Rand about the significance of Verlander missing this key workout time.
"Actually, he was doing a great job this winter," Rand said. "Hopefully, he will come through fine and be ready to go the rest of the way.
"He was doing great with his off-season conditioning program, and that will work to his advantage in coming back."
Verlander was 13-12 with a 3.46 ERA in 2013, when he failed to get any Cy Young Award votes for the first time in five years. He did, however, make the All-Star team for the fifth consecutive year.
During the playoffs, he was the Verlander of old, allowing one run in 23 innings (0.39 ERA) with a 0.565 WHIP and 31 strikeouts. Actually, he was better than ever in three stunning starts against the Oakland A’s and Boston Red Sox.
Cabrera played the second half of the season with abdominal-wall, groin and hip-flexor injuries. He also played over some painful shin bruises suffered after fouling off pitches in two epic at-bats against New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera — both ending with dramatic ninth-inning homers.
Cabrera overcame the pain until a September slide, but still won his second consecutive MVP award and his third straight batting crown. He hit a career-high .348 with 44 home runs and 137 RBIs.
"He’s an unbelievable athlete who has a tremendous pain tolerance," Rand said. "He was the (AL) Player of the Month in August.
"Injuring the abductor on a slide at home in late August made September real difficult for him, though. He didn’t quite have the same power after that, but it was incredible to watch what he did."
RONDON GETTING CLOSE
Rookie right-handed reliever Bruce Rondon also struggled to get on the mound after suffering a flexor strain in his right elbow. He couldn’t pitch in the playoffs, costing Detroit its dominating eighth-inning setup man.
Rondon got on track in August, and struck out 18 in 15 innings pitched with a 1.23 ERA over his last 15 outings.
"Bruce is going through a throwing program in Venezuela," Rand said. "Right now, he’s playing long toss up to 120 feet.
"If the progress he’s made continues, he will have thrown four sides (bullpen sessions) by the time pitchers report and be real close to being back."