Detroit Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera finding groove at perfect time; Willi Castro working in OF

Glimpses of vintage Miguel Cabrera are coming to fruition as he is one hit away from his 2,000th with the Detroit Tigers.

Like when he turned on an inside fastball and sent it to the center-field wall for a run-scoring double in the sixth inning of Game 1 in Saturday’s doubleheader. Or when yet another second-pitch fastball came in the fifth inning of Game 2; Cabrera drove it the opposite way for a go-ahead two-run homer.

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Those provided memories of what he consistently accomplished in the prime of his career, when he won the American League MVP in 2012 and 2013 and made seven All-Star Games in a row from 2010-16. But those memories are returning to reality, and they couldn’t come at a better time.

The Tigers (15-16) have won four straight and five of their past six games, inching closer in a postseason race more than halfway into the 60-game schedule. In those six contests, Cabrera is 10-for-21 with one homer, eight RBIs, four walks and no strikeouts.

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Detroit Tigers DH Miguel Cabrera watches his home run against the Minnesota Twins during the fifth inning at Comerica Park, Saturday, August 29, 2020.

“When you got that guy in the three-hole, you need him to hit,” Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said Sunday. “He’s starting to get hot. We were concerned yesterday playing 14 innings, but after the first game, he wanted to go back out there. You just keep feeding off that, let him do his thing.

“As long as we can keep him healthy, you’re gonna get hits out of him.”

To put Cabrera’s offensive surge in perspective, take the 25 games beforehand: 16-for-91 (.176), four homers, 11 RBIs, 11 walks and 23 strikeouts.

Cabrera, 37, hasn’t publicly spoken since spring training, and with interviews transitioning to Zoom conferences, he continues to dodge requests. But those close to him — his teammates and manager — have always promised he would find his stride.

“He’s a leader because of everything he has done so far,” outfielder Victor Reyes said Saturday through interpreter Carlos Guillen. “It encourages me to go out every day because you see him trying to win every day. He’s trying to make more numbers, so that’s a big motivation for all of us.”

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He is finally figuring it out as the Tigers have won three series in a row against the Cleveland Indians, Chicago Cubs and Minnesota Twins. They are in a position to make a push toward the expanded 16-team playoffs.

Seems like perfect timing for Cabrera to get back on track.

“You want Miggy all the time in your lineup,” first baseman Jeimer Candelario said. “It’s special playing with Miggy, the way that he handles himself. He’s just trying to have some fun, get better and contribute to the team.”

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New outfield option

Before Sunday’s series finale against the Twins, infielder Willi Castro was in the outfield with first base coach Dave Clark, who is also the outfield instructor.

In 41 MLB games across two seasons, Castro has played 32 at shortstop, seven at third base, one at second base and served as the designated hitter once. He spent all 606 minor-league games in the infield and has never moved to the outfield grass.

That could change soon.

“Just to try to find more at-bats,” Gardenhire said. “You want to see him and (third baseman Isaac) Paredes get plenty of at-bats through the rest of this thing. Just looking for another option. I talked to my bosses about it, and they thought it was a good idea.”

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Detroit Tigers shortstop Willi Castro, left, fields the ball against the Chicago White Sox during the first inning at Guaranteed Rate Field, Aug. 17, 2020.
Detroit Tigers shortstop Willi Castro, left, fields the ball against the Chicago White Sox during the first inning at Guaranteed Rate Field, Aug. 17, 2020.

The decision comes with utility player Harold Castro on the 10-day injured list. Paredes is becoming the everyday third baseman, and Gardenhire doesn’t want to move shortstop Niko Goodrum or second baseman Jonathan Schoop.

Without many options left to get Castro in the lineup on a daily basis, the organization has decided to give the outfield a try. He will work with Clark on drills when he’s not in the starting lineup, like Sunday’s game against the Twins.

“He says, ‘I’ll do whatever you want me to do.’ And that’s good,” Gardenhire said. “Good coming from a young man.”

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Romine scratched

The Tigers scratched catcher Austin Romine from Sunday’s lineup because of right knee soreness. Backup Grayson Greiner takes his place in commanding the game with right-hander Casey Mize on the mound.

In 22 games, Romine is slashing .291/.309/.418 with two homers and 14 RBIs.

Evan Petzold is a sports reporting intern at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzoldThe Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here’s how you can gain access to our most exclusive Detroit Tigers content

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera finding groove at perfect time

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