LAKELAND, Fla. (AP) — Miguel Cabrera has three home runs in 21 at-bats and if all goes well, he won’t be back at spring training for almost three weeks.
The reigning AL MVP and Triple Crown winner is headed to the World Baseball Classic and hopes to help Team Venezuela advance all the way to the finals March 19 in San Francisco.
Cabrera is one of several major league stars who will play for Venezuela, a tournament favorite. His teammates include Pablo Sandoval, Carlos Gonzalez, Elvis Andrus, Asdrubal Cabrera and Martin Prado.
“Let’s go and see what happens,” Cabrera said after hitting a two-run homer for a Detroit Tigers split squad Saturday in a 4-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates. “On paper you might look good, but you go out there and you don’t know what’s going to happen in baseball. It’s crazy.”
For the national fervor it inspires, Cabrera compared playing in the WBC to playing in the World Series.
“When you hear the national anthem and you see all the people in the stands singing the national anthem, it makes you feel very emotional. It’s different,” he said. “But in the World Series, you’ve played 162 games. Right now it’s kind of different because we’re just starting the year and you don’t know how you’re feeling.
“Maybe you feel pretty good one day but you don’t feel good the next day. It’s kind of weird. You’ve got to set your mind to go out there and say, `Let’s do it, let’s go play hard.'”
Cabrera has played in seven games this spring, but rarely beyond the fifth inning.
“When we go out and play a full game (Thursday in Puerto Rico), it’s going to be the first time we’ve played nine innings,” he said. “We’ll see how we feel when we play nine innings and get four at-bats. But I feel good. My legs feel good.”
It usually doesn’t take the 29-year-old Cabrera long to get cranked up. Tigers manager Jim Leyland often says Cabrera is a natural was “born to play baseball.”
His opposite-field home run Saturday off Jeanmar Gomez was the only long ball hit on a chilly day with the wind blowing out.
“It was the wind,” Cabrera said, grinning. “I just hit it and ran.”
Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle wasn’t convinced.
“How much was jet stream and how much was him?” Hurdle said. “The guy is a tremendous hitter, well warranted by the season he put up last year. … He’s not just a talented guy; he has a plan when he goes up there.”
Sandoval, the World Series MVP for San Francisco last year, is also a third baseman, so Cabrera isn’t sure which position he’ll play for Venezuela. He said he doesn’t care if he is moved to first base, where he has played before. He just wants to get started.
“I’m excited to see how we’re going to do,” Cabrera said.
Drew Smyly, competing for the fifth spot in Detroit’s rotation, pitched three perfect innings in his second spring start.
Gomez also went three innings. He gave up three hits, three walks and four runs, two on Cabrera’s homer in the third.
Austin Jackson had one of Detroit’s three hits and scored twice.
NOTES: Recently retired Super Bowl champion Ray Lewis, who grew up in Lakeland, threw out the ceremonial first pitch. … Pirates catcher Russell Martin went 0 for 3 as the designated hitter after missing three days with upper-body soreness. Martin will catch Sunday in Bradenton. … Max Scherzer will get his first spring start for the Tigers against Atlanta on Sunday. … The Tigers agreed to terms with seven players and now have all the players on their 40-man roster under contract.