DETROIT — Something that has never occurred since Miguel Cabrera came to the majors in 2003 nearly happened in recent weeks.
Detroit Tigers head athletic trainer Kevin Rand said Wednesday that placing Cabrera on the 15-day disabled list was seriously considered “twice” during the last seven weeks, when he has played over a host of injuries while missing only eight games.
Cabrera, in his 12th season, has never been placed on the disabled list. He’s played between 150 and 161 games in each of his previous nine full seasons.
Cabrera, who leads the majors with a .359 average and 120 RBIs, put a scare into everybody Tuesday night, when he took the first pitch in the ninth inning from Minnesota Twins reliever Glenn Perkins and came away grimacing.
“On that pitch down and in, he tweaked it in the groin area,” said Rand. He explained that the injury was connected to the abdominal wall strain and hip flexor problems that caused Cabrera to miss his first game of the season on July 4 in Toronto.
Cabrera, representing the tying run in Tuesday’s 6-3 loss, was in visible pain during the entire at-bat that ended with him swinging and striking out. Tigers manager Jim Leyland said he could see the pain in Cabrera’s face as he walked up the numerous stair steps from the dugout to the clubhouse.
However, on Wednesday Cabrera gingerly jogged to the trainer’s room and Leyland didn’t hesitate in putting Cabrera in the starting lineup.
Cabrera, 30, recently missed four games (July 23-26) and three games (July 31-Aug. 3). Those were the points when the disabled list was considered, but he has played 17 consecutive games since.
Rand said Cabrera was not placed on the disabled list because it was decided best to potentially “lose him for a week as opposed to eight more days.” He has an extremely high pain threshold, and that factored into the decisions. Rand said there is no threat of structural damage by Cabrera playing hurt in these cases, but notes that “it’ll get better slower by doing this.”
Something compounding the difficulty of playing hurt occurred on Aug. 9, when Cabrera fouled different pitches off of his left knee and shin to cause painful bruises. He fought off the pain in those instances to hit a game-tying homer off New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera.
“He hit the knee and then hit the shin,” Rand said. “Then he cleared it out and hit a homer … Unbelievable.”
Cabrera has 40 homers, and trails only Baltimore Orioles first baseman Chris Davis (45 homers) in pursuit of a second consecutive Triple Crown. Rand said the knee and shin bruises have healed, but the pain connected to the abdominal injury persists.
The decisions the Tigers have made to continue putting him in the lineup have been difficult.
“Nobody said it was easy,” Rand said. “What’s in the best interest of the athlete is what’s in the best interest of the ballclub.”
Cabera is signed through 2015.
MARTINEZ CATCHING AGAIN: Victor Martinez has been a catcher for 10 seasons, and has been behind the plate for 853 games. But he has not caught since doing so in 26 games in 2011. The decision was made to make him a full-time designated hitter this season, after he missed all of 2012 following knee surgeries. However, Martinez has looked nimble in playing 10 games at first base and Tigers manager Jim Leyland said he has no concerns about his health and stability.
So, Leyland made a decision to likely start Martinez at catcher in one of three games this weekend in New York against the Mets. The former All-Star catcher worked out behind the plate Wednesday afternoon.
Martinez said he’s kept the catching gear with him mostly for potential emergency use. He was asked about the enthusiasm he has for the position.
“Definitely,” Martinez said. “I’m not going to lie. That’s the position I came up to the big leagues in and it’s feeling good. It’s always going to be fun.”
Leyland said Alex Avila (seven-day concussion disabled list) likely will be sent to catch one game for the Toledo Mud Hens on Thursday before being reinstated. Leyland said that injury didn’t factor into the decision to catch Martinez, but then Brayan Pena bruised his right toe with a foul pitch Tuesday night and was out of Wednesday’s starting lineup. That put Bryan Holaday into the starting lineup with Pena available in emergency situations.
Leyland needs to know if Martinez can catch should Avila or Pena end up having difficulties playing regularly.
BULLPEN UPDATE: Leyland said all seven relievers are available Wednesday except Jeremy Bonderman, who pitched 2 2/3 innings Tuesday night.