Detroit Tigers icon Miguel Cabrera, his ailing right knee and an uncertain future

Miguel Cabrera doesn’t like to talk about his right knee.

On Thursday, however, the 39-year-old didn’t hesitate to broach the subject. A few reporters approached Cabrera’s locker in the clubhouse after the Detroit Tigers DH did not participate in Wednesday’s series finale in Minneapolis. Realizing what was going on, the 20-year MLB veteran – a Baseball Hall of Fame lock – met them in the middle to talk about his health.

There is a chance that Cabrera will play his last season.

He is undecided about his status for 2023.

“I have to talk to my agent, I have to talk to the general manager (general manager Al Avila), I have to talk to everyone to see what the plan will be for next year,” Cabrera said. “Right now we’re focused on today. We’ll take it day by day and see what happens. I’m not thinking about next year at the moment. I’m thinking about trying to finish healthy this year, and we’ll see.”

The Tigers designated slugger Miguel Cabrera in the dugout in the first inning of the Tigers' 4-3 win over the Padres on Wednesday, July 27, 2022, at Comerica Park.

The Tigers designated slugger Miguel Cabrera in the dugout in the first inning of the Tigers’ 4-3 win over the Padres on Wednesday, July 27, 2022, at Comerica Park.

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Cabrera owes the Tigers $32 million for next season. He has spoken several times over the past two seasons about his goal of winning a World Series with the Tigers and his intention to retire after his contract is complete, but this time he would not commit for 2023. .

“I don’t feel good right now,” Cabrera said. “I’m trying to do everything I can to go out there and play, but I’m not feeling really good right now.”

It’s always been a matter of “when”, not “if”, for the two-time MVP and his ailing right knee. He was diagnosed with a chronic right knee injury in 2019 but following the recommendation of four specialists, including sports doctor Dr James Andrews, he did not opt ​​for surgery.

Cabrera’s knee pain would only get worse over time.

Everyone knew it.

“It’s a chronic thing that he’s going to have to live with, and through the treatment you’re going to have to put him on the pitch,” Avila said in June 2019. It’s his responsibility to keep fit and it’s our responsibility to make sure we need to give him proper treatment and rest. It’s a combination. If you keep it up we should be able to to keep him productive on the pitch for the rest of his contract, so that’s our expectation and our hope.”

Now time is catching up with Cabrera, the third player in MLB history to hit 3,000 hits, 500 homers and 600 doubles, along with Albert Pujols (playing his final season in 2022) and the late Hank Aaron.

The tread wears on the tires.

“The last three weeks hurt more,” Cabrera said. “I’ve had this problem for three or four years. Right now I’m trying to train more. I have to deal with it.”

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American League star Miguel Cabrera laughs as he crashes against the National League in the fifth inning during the 92nd MLB All-Star Game at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday, July 19, 2022 in Los Angeles.

American League star Miguel Cabrera laughs as he crashes against the National League in the fifth inning during the 92nd MLB All-Star Game at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday, July 19, 2022 in Los Angeles.

The 12-time All-Star, including an “All-Star Legends Selection” for the 2022 edition of the Midsummer Classic, posted a .308 batting average over 70 games through July 6, just before being named on the team despite only seven doubles and three home runs.

Since then, Cabrera is batting .132 with two doubles and a home run in 20 games. Overall, he is averaging .271 with nine doubles, four home runs, 36 RBIs, 23 walks and 82 strikeouts in 90 games.

Often, Cabrera takes funky swings and can’t rotate his right knee while trying to attack pitches into the batter’s box. Playing without a healthy back knee means Cabrera, who averaged 33 home runs per season from 2004 to 2016, is unable to generate power.

“I feel it when I swing,” Cabrera said. “When you see me hitting a lot of ground balls on my right side, it’s because of the pain. … I’m going to try to do more exercises to strengthen my quad or my (hamstrings) or whatever. be around my stronger knee. We’ll see what happens.”

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The Tigers are taking a proactive approach to the situation, with Cabrera and manager AJ Hinch working together to determine his playing time for the remainder of the season.

Cabrera and Hinch didn’t talk about 2023, but they did map the current outbreak in Comerica Park, which lasts Aug. 4-11 with a Monday off. The Tigers play the Tampa Bay Rays until Sunday, then the Cleveland Guardians from Tuesday to Thursday. The Tigers will reassess Cabrera’s health before preparing his schedule for the second half of August.

“He hurts,” Hinch said. “He’s not moving very well. He’s playing despite the pain.”

Until further notice, Cabrera is expected to serve as the Tigers designated hitter every other day, and when not in the starting lineup, he will be available to pinch hit. The Tigers, as they have for several years, will monitor his activity on the base paths.

For now, the Tigers hope Cabrera can avoid the injured list.

He has been placed on the injured list once – a 10-day stint in April 2021 due to a left bicep strain – since a ruptured left bicep tendon in June 2018 sent him to the list 60 days injured and ended his season.

“I don’t necessarily think that’s the answer,” Hinch said. “If it continues later in the month, I think we will have to think about it. But he can give us what he has.”

Detroit Tigers manager AJ Hinch shakes hands with first baseman Miguel Cabrera (24) after the Tigers' 4-2 victory over the Kansas City Royals at Comerica Park in Detroit on Wednesday, May 12, 2021.

Detroit Tigers manager AJ Hinch shakes hands with first baseman Miguel Cabrera (24) after the Tigers’ 4-2 victory over the Kansas City Royals at Comerica Park in Detroit on Wednesday, May 12, 2021.

Cabrera enjoys playing games, exemplified by his upbeat personality on the pitch, and spent the 2020 campaign begging the organization to let him return to first base, which Hinch – unlike former manager Ron Gardenhire – allowed for 44 of his 130 games last season.

But Cabrera did not operate at first base in 2022. He willingly gave up his place on the field to 22-year-old rookie Spencer Torkelson, who proudly took the field as the opening day first baseman. of the Tigers. The Tigers demoted Torkelson to Triple-A Toledo in mid-July, but when that happened Cabrera did not plead for a return to first base.

He also hasn’t struggled to lose playing time in the last two months of this season due to his persistent knee injury. He said he’s willing to give up some of his at-bats to younger players so the Tigers can “see what we have for next year.”

“I don’t want to hurt the team,” Cabrera said. “I don’t want to put myself in a bad position. I don’t perform well, so I’m ok with that. I understand that. It’s always been a problem I’ve had with my knee, so that’s fine. I love this team I don’t want to hurt this team.

“You have to understand your body. I understand my body and my position in this team. I’m always going to work, and every time they give me a chance to play, I’m going to go out there and do my job. That’s the line background, and that’s what counts.”

All signs indicate the end is near for Cabrera, one of the best players to ever wear the Old English ‘D’ on his chest. When baseball’s most recent Triple Crown winner decided to hang up his cleats remains a mystery.

But Cabrera will end up playing his last match.

Maybe earlier than expected.

“I think it’s a big step for him and also a big step for any athlete who starts talking about his physical inability to do certain things,” Hinch said. “I wouldn’t say it raised alarm bells, but it certainly made it a more open topic that we’ve been talking about behind closed doors for a while.

“I hate that he’s not feeling well. He’s been through so much pain in his career that we probably can’t even comprehend, but this time I think it convinced him to talk about it openly and get away with it. make sure we’re doing the right thing.”

Contact Evan Petzold at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Learn more about the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera not guaranteed to play in 2023

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