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Saturday, May 21, 2022

Star slugger Cabrera and the Tigers start spring with a fresh perspective

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LAKELAND, Fla. (AP) — Miguel Cabrera reported for the start of his 20th major league spring training camp Sunday morning, his 15th with the Detroit Tigers.

This one is a little different. For the first time since 2016, the fortified Tigers are thinking about winning, maybe even competing.

“I think we have a chance to do that here, so I’m really excited and ready to go,” said the 38-year-old Cabrera, who needs just 13 hits to reach 3,000 for his career.

The Tigers went 77-85 last season in his first year under manager AJ Hinch. It was a big jump after four straight seasons of sub-.400 winning percentages.

The 2021 Tigers had a winning record after May 7, then increased their roster with three veterans before MLB’s 99-day lockout.

“Our manager and organization sent a new message last year that it’s time to win, and they showed it last offseason by signing two greats to our team,” Cabrera said. “Hopefully we can stay healthy and compete.”

In November, Detroit acquired catcher Tucker Barnhart from Cincinnati, then signed left-handed pitcher Eduardo Rodríguez and shortstop Javier Báez to long-term contracts.

Those acquisitions and the arrivals of prospects Riley Greene and Spencer Torkelson gave the Tigers a different look and a different set of expectations as they prepared for Monday’s first organized workout.

“We have to set the bar high,” Hinch said. “As we come into this camp, we have a feeling of winning a little bit, not a lot, and I think we need to continue with the same message.”

Outfielder Robbie Grossman took notice.

“There’s a buzz in the clubhouse,” he said. “We have brought in some really good players. We are only going to get better, so our expectations are getting higher and higher.”

Greene, a 21-year-old outfielder, was the fifth overall pick in the 2019 draft. Torkelson, 22, the first overall pick in 2020, is a first baseman. They are among 17 non-roster players who have been in camp for weeks as Major League veterans waited for the lockout to end.

“I think they’re great prospects,” Hinch said. “They will have the opportunity to show what they can do and how they fit in.”

Whether Greene and/or Torkelson make the opening day roster will affect other roster decisions, such as whether Detroit starts the season with five outfielders or three catchers, how much Cabrera plays first base and whether Jonathan Schoop plays first. base or second base, Hinch said. he said.

Cabrera hit .256 with 15 home runs and 75 RBI in 130 games last year. He finished the season with 502 career home runs from him.

Rodriguez, 28, joins Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal and Matt Manning in the starting pitching rotation. Tyler Alexander has the inside track at fifth, though Hinch said he “can be a very valuable Swiss Army knife outside the bullpen, too.”

There are also one or two spots available in the bullpen.

Due to the rapid turnaround after the MLB lockout, spring training has been cut to less than four weeks. The Tigers are scheduled to start their regular season on April 8 at home against the Chicago White Sox.

“Obviously pitching has to get going pretty quickly,” Hinch said. “You’re looking at four starts per starter. You’re trying to condense how many outings the guys have. We have to get them into the games a little bit faster. We’re not going to be looking at our younger guys in camp a lot. But there are 30 teams that have the same thing.”

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