Tuesday, October 15, 2013
Miguel Cabrera plots against pain
By Buster Olney
Miguel Cabrera's battle against constant pain has caused him to alter his swing.
DETROIT -- This is the 25th anniversary of Kirk Gibson's home run in the 1988 World Series, when none of us -- Jack Buck, first and foremost -- could believe what we just saw.
In the moments leading up to that at-bat, Gibson had taken some swings in the tunnel behind the Dodgers dugout, trying to figure out a way he could be functional at the plate. He had a knee injury and a hamstring injury and could barely move, making his usual setup and swing mechanics obsolete. Gibson had to take the working pieces of his body and make it all work.
Miguel Cabrera has been going through the same process in recent weeks. He has some sort of abdominal injury -- a best guess would be a sports hernia -- and he struggles to run, to move, to swing the bat. From Aug. 26 to Oct. 8, Cabrera had a total of two extra-base hits. But Cabrera, like Gibson, has been trying to figure out a way to make it work, and it has not gone unnoticed by the Red Sox that Cabrera has altered his swing mechanics to account for whatever he is feeling.
"If it's a sports hernia -- jeez, that's ugly," said one player, noting the amount of pain Cabrera might be experiencing. For years, Cabrera has finished his swing holding the bat in his left hand only, at the conclusion of a high-torque movement in which he swings very hard. But as some other hitters note, this also places stress on the left side of the hitter's body, in the rib cage and abdominal area. Here's the home run that Cabrera hit Aug. 26, against Oakland's A.J. Griffin, before his ailments began to manifest themselves; you see the one-handed finish to his swing.
Over the next 44 days, Cabrera, the planet's best hitter, hit one home run.
But through his tinkering, he made a change, and last week, in Game 5 of the Division Series against Oakland, he mashed a two-run homer off Sonny Gray. This time, he used two hands with his finish. He did it again in Game 2 of the AL Championship Series on Sunday, against Clay Buchholz.
Cabrera is known among his peers to have superlative control of his hands at the plate, sometimes keeping his feet flat on the ground at the plate and using only his hands to drive the ball if he anticipates a fastball. Now, with this current adjustment, some of the Red Sox players assume Cabrera has discovered a way to be more comfortable with his swing, and in recent days, his batting practice sessions have been explosive again.
"I think he's better," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said Monday, speaking generally. "But I've been saying this for quite a while now, he's not going to be a hundred percent the rest of the season and hopefully we've got a lot of season left. But I do think there are days when he's a little bit better. And I think last night he was better."
• Tuesday's game will start here a little after 4 p.m. ET, but because Detroit is on the western edge of the time zone, the shadows at Comerica Park -- if there is sunshine -- should not be an issue in the first innings. Rather, the shadows will start to become an issue for the hitters a little after 5 p.m., and in this park, it will be the left fielders who might be staring directly into the setting sun as they track fly balls.
• Some of the Red Sox hitters noted that because they had faced Tampa Bay so often, they had a strong sense of how they would be pitched to by the Rays' pitchers. But some of them felt that it really wasn't until the middle of Game 2 that they had a sense of how Detroit was attacking them. When David Ortiz walked to the plate with the bases loaded in the eighth inning in Game 2, he said afterward, he knew that the Tigers had been throwing offspeed pitches to him early in the count, and so he looked for Joaquin Benoit to throw him a changeup early.
That's exactly what happened. But having an understanding of the opponent's game plan and being able to take advantage of it are two completely different things. In my conversations with some of the Red Sox hitters over the past couple of days, they attributed just about every bit of their brutal start -- 3-for-51 with 30 strikeouts -- to Detroit's incredible pitching, rather than to something that they felt they were doing wrong. And today, they will face Justin Verlander.
This is what Verlander said: "I've seen some pitches that he got hit on that were strikes," said Verlander.
"So, I mean, I don't think you can worry about that. I think just whoever is the home plate umpire needs to be aware that he's up there. Anything on the inner half occasionally he's looking to get hit. He's up there, he's right on top of the plate. And his arms are over the batter's box and over part of the plate.
"If he doesn't get out of the way, there could be an occasion that it could be a strike and it actually hits him. That's something that I think that those guys are aware of. But you can't think about not hitting a guy. You've got to think about executing your pitches and not changing anything because of that. And hopefully if something like that happens those guys are on top of it."
• Leyland addressed the Game 2 meltdown Monday and he did what Leyland does routinely, which is to try to deflect blame from his players, in this particular case, Joaquin Benoit. "Last night I made a mistake that I take full responsibility for," Leyland said.
"I should have just reminded him that we didn't want Ortiz to really beat us. He tried to make a great pitch. He tried to get it low and away out of the strike zone, but he didn't get it there. We were going to try to get him to swing at a ball if we could. And I should have reminded him about that and I did not.
"We talked before the series about that, David is one of those guys that he's been born for those magic moments, we know that. We were trying to avoid that and Benny tried to make the pitch, he just didn't get it there. He just didn't execute the pitch."
• There were a lot of pictures taken of the Ortiz home run, but Stan Grossfeld of the Boston Globe got the perfect angle, with his shot containing perfect symmetry. On the left, there are Torii Hunter's legs -- and only his legs -- sticking straight up in the air as he tumbled over the bullpen wall, and on the right, Boston policeman Steve Horgan, his arms raised in celebration.
Fifty years from now, somebody will look at this picture for the first time and ask, what happened there? This is why this will go down as one of the great sports photos ever. The event and the teams involved really don't matter, because the picture speaks for itself. Just like this picture. Or this one. Or how about this, for which the photographer won a Pulitzer Prize. One of my personal favorites, of quarterback Y.A. Tittle.
For the readers: What are your favorite sports pictures?
A. Ryu threw only 48 fastballs among his 108 pitches (44 percent), a rate well below his 54 percent fastball usage this season. B. He threw 34 changeups, a season-high usage rate of 32 percent. Those pitches netted him six outs (including Jon Jay's fly-ball double play) and yielded no baserunners. C. Ryu was also tough deep in counts, retiring 14 of the 16 hitters against whom he got a two-strike count. In his previous two starts, he allowed seven two-strike hits and a pair of two-strike walks, but retired only 10 of the batters he faced.
From his story: "As a player, I just think he doesn't know [about how to act]," Cardinals outfielder Carlos Beltran said. "That's what I think. He really doesn't know. He must think that he's still playing somewhere else.
"He has a lot of passion," Beltran said. "No doubt about that. Great ability. Great talent. I think, with time, he'll learn that you've got to act with a little bit more calm.
"So, you know, he's going to learn. It's going to take him time, but he's going to learn. When you try to do those things sometimes, you know, you get that attention. And you don't want to wake up nobody. I always thought if you hit a home run off a pitcher, you've got to make him believe he made a mistake. You don't wake him up. Or next time, the pitcher's going to be more focused with you and he's going to try harder to get you out.
"So he will learn," Beltran concluded. "I don't think he's a bad kid. I just think he doesn't know right now." But when Beltran was asked, "Did Yasiel Puig just 'wake up' the Cardinals?" he made it obvious that the alarm bells had just sounded -- without actually saying that. "I'm in the outfield," Beltran said, trying to choose his words carefully. "I mean, it's not great.
"To me, I don't like it. But what can I say? I don't play for them. I just play over here. I just need to do my job. It is what it is."
9: Defensive misplays by the Cardinals Monday, according to Baseball Info Solutions, the most in any postseason game since 2006.
22: Consecutive scoreless innings by the Dodgers before Adrian Gonzalez's RBI double in the fourth inning Monday.
.134: Cardinals' batting average through three games of this series, the lowest of any team in the first three games of an LCS.
1972 The last year a postseason series had fewer than 10 combined runs in the first three games (the '72 World Series), before this year's NLCS.