Cabrera’s slump continues in Tigers’ 3-1 loss to White Sox

Cabrera is batting .206 with one homer and seven RBIs. Since belting a homer for his 2,000th career hit and collecting four hits in the third game of the season, Cabrera has batted .157.

Christopher Hanewinckel

DETROIT — Imagine if Miguel Cabrera was hitting like the two-time defending American League MVP that he is. With the added spark of Rajai Davis and Ian Kinsler in front of him, the Cabrera of recent years might already be pushing 20 RBIs with visions of another Triple Crown.

However, he’s not hitting a lick right now. Cabrera is batting .206 with one homer and seven RBIs. Since belting a homer for his 2,000th career hit and collecting four hits in the third game of the season, Cabrera has batted .157.

So, what’s wrong?

He’s been off balance in his swing, and occasionally unsure of the strike zone. This happens to mere mortals all the time. They go into slumps. But it does not — or rather has not — happened to Cabrera.

"The bat speed is not what it normally is," Tigers radio analyst Jim Price said of Cabrera during Monday’s 3-1 loss to the Chicago White Sox. "And he is not picking up the ball like he normally does."

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Cabrera realized he’d become pull-happy early on and corrected that, but he’s still been unable to produce hits going the other way. Although former Tigers manager Jim Leyland called him the greatest opposite-field power hitter he’s ever seen, Cabrera has just one hit to right field all season.

Brad Ausmus, who replaced Leyland this season, felt Cabrera very easily could’ve had three hits to either right or center on Monday night.

"He hit balls in his first two at-bats that were 800 feet worth of outs," Ausmus said. "In a lot of parks, he would’ve been 3-for-3 with two homers."

Cabrera also hit a ball up the middle that second baseman Marcus Semien was able to field because he was shifted over behind the bag — playing Cabrera to pull rather than shoot the ball through the hole on the right side.

So, Ausmus was encouraged by what he saw from his slugger?

"Absolutely," Ausmus said. "Those are the best swings I’ve seen from him. He looked comfortable at the plate. Sometimes, hitters do something right and get no hits. That’s what happened to him tonight."

Cabrera was asked if he shared the optimism of his manager.

He paused, and then looked up from his locker stool and said, "I don’t know. I went 0 for 4, man."

When asked about the 400-foot shots that still didn’t come close to clearing the walls at spacious Comerica Park, Cabrera said softly, "It’s an out, man. It’s an out."

Sometimes, hitters do something right and get no hits. That’s what happened to him tonight.

Brad Ausmus

Cabrera took early batting practice with hitting coach Wally Joyner to work on the timing he felt was lacking. When asked if he felt that timing was rediscovered, Cabrera said, "I’m not sure. You know, I was 0 for 4."

Cabrera has gone hitless in seven of 16 games, and it’s befuddling for a hitter who won a Triple Crown two years ago and has collected three consecutive batting titles.

He’s never been a slow starter because he’s basically always been on. Cabrera usually has one brief slump per season over five to 10 games, during which he still hits much better than he has the first three weeks of this season.

Comparisons to the first 16 games of Cabrera’s seasons for Detroit:

2014: .206, 1 homer, 7 RBIs

2013: .348, 2 homers, 18 RBIs

2012: .290, 4 homers, 12 RBIs

2011: .304, 5 homers, 11 RBIs

2010: .365, 4 homers, 19 RBIs

2009: .410, 4 homers, 13 RBIs

2008: .283, 3 homers, 12 RBIs

Cabrera has hit 44 homers in each of the past two seasons, and tallied 139 and 137 RBIs. He’d finish with 10 homers and 69 RBIs at his current pace.

It’s safe to assume that Cabrera, 31, will snap out of this and go on a tear, becoming a monster for pitchers once again.

But for now, the lack of production leaves him incapable of feeling good about two outs traveling 800 feet. The bottom line is all that matters, and right now that is bordering the Mendoza Line. If Cabrera goes 0 for 3 in Tuesday night’s game, he will dip under .200.

However, maybe Ausmus is correct. Perhaps Monday night was the game that put him in position to pounce once again.

Not that Ausmus sees him as being any less aggressive.

"I still think Miggy’s attacked the ball," he said.

However, Cabrera has not led the attack. Davis and Kinsler have batted a combined .303 in front of Cabrera. They have stolen bases and been one-two in scoring (Kinsler 12 runs, Davis 10 runs) on the team. Both are on pace to score 100 or more runs even without Cabrera knocking them in very often.

I spoke to Cabrera about how badly he must want to drive them home.

"I mean, yeah," he said.

Then he looked away. There wasn’t much to say for the best hitter in the game, who takes no consolation in hitting the ball hard and being out.

WHITE SOX ACE INJURED: All-Star left-hander Chris Sale (3-0, 2.30 ERA) has been scratched from Tuesday night’s start against Detroit’s Justin Verlander. Sale was placed on the disabled list after Monday night’s game with a flexor strain, and the White Sox announced they are calling up left-hander Charlie Leesman to make the start.

SANCHEZ JUST LOST IT: Anibal Sanchez was humming through six innings. He’d allowed only one hit, a double to Marcus Semien in the fourth inning, and had been very economical with only 72 pitches. Sanchez was looking like the pitcher who led the American League with a 2.57 ERA in 2013.

But then the wheels came off in the seventh. He allowed three doubles and one single to the first five batters, and his night was over. Sanchez ended up with a quality start (6 1/3 innings, three earned runs) but couldn’t feel good about his inability to finish strong.

However, the 92-pitch outing was a step in the right direction for a pitcher who now is about where he expected to be at the start of the season.

Sanchez didn’t throw a pitch in spring training after his March 12 outing. He developed shoulder inflammation that put him on the shelf for the last three weeks of Grapefruit League games. Sanchez was rusty in his first start of the season on April 4 against the Baltimore Orioles, giving up two runs in four innings.

Stamina, as expected, continued to be an issue in his next two starts. Sanchez didn’t make it past the fifth inning either time, and required 110 and 104 pitches in those outings. So, this was better, but it still wasn’t up to the high standards Sanchez has set for himself.