As He Fights To Recover Power, Cabrera Knows Clock Is Ticking: "I Don't Have Too Much Time"

The hitter he is now is not the hitter he wants to become.

Will Burchfield
May 22, 2019 - 6:59 pm

© Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

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Miguel Cabrera knows people are losing patience. He's losing patience, too. 

"I can't wait to see another home run," he said Wednesday afternoon. 

Then Cabrera laughed, because it's silly to think about these words coming from one of the greatest hitters of all time. But it's true and it's frustrating, and sometimes, laughing is all there is to do.

Cabrera only has one homer this season, and it came almost a full month ago. His once-prodigious power has seemingly dried up. He's still batting at a near-.300 clip, but that's only part of what he's paid to do. And it's only a small part of what Cabrera expects out of himself. 

No, he said, he wouldn't be satisfied if this is what he's become, a hitter with a respectable average and very few home runs. 

"I want to find my power back," Cabrera said. "I feel like I can produce more."

The 36-year-old is coming off surgery for a torn biceps last June. Whether or not that's the reason for his decline in pop is hard to say. He was fully healthy at the start of last season and only had three homers at the time of his injury. But it certainly hasn't made things any easier.

While Cabrera refuses to use the injury as a crutch, he admits he didn't feel like himself when this season began. Only recently has he started to find his swing. 

"I told myself I thought I was right for the season. But when the season (came), the game was too fast for me," he said. "So I have to do a lot of adjustments and try to be back in my normal position at the plate and try to produce more."

When Cabrera talks about power, he's not referring strictly to home runs. He's never been a pure home run hitter. It's the extra base hits and the RBIs that he wants more of, two stats on which he's built his Hall of Fame career. 

His last great season came three years ago when he hit .316 with a .956 OPS and 108 RBI. Over three seasons since, .268/.748/100. 

"Average is back and forth. You don’t control average," Cabrera said. "But it’s nice when you hit for power because when you do that, you drive in more runs and you help the team score. And when you’re able to do that, you’re able to put pressure on the other team." 

For the most part this season, Cabrera has hit the ball hard. In fact, his hard-hit rate of 50.8 percent is the 10th best in baseball and the best of his career. But a good chunk of those balls are being drilled into the dirt. It's part of the reason his BABIP (.390) has never been higher and his slugging percentage (.364) has never been lower. 

Cabrera believes he knows the root of the problem. 

"I think it’s my stance and my build rate with my hands," he said. "Sometimes I try to be ready too soon and try to be too fast and (my front shoulder) goes open and my head turns to left field. That’s not the way I hit. The way I hit is to stay inside the ball."

Recently, Cabrera said his timing has been better. He referenced a game last week when he went 0-4 but hit three fly balls -- a positive sign for his power. He's doing his best to stay positive and avoid worrying. He knows the worrying doesn't help. 

He also knows he's on the backend of his career. The clock is ticking loudly on his status as one of the game's premier hitters. Sure, Cabrera is signed through 2023, but who knows how long his body and his skills will hold up. Both are already beginning to fade. 

When he talks with players around the league who have dealt with the same injury he did last year, they tell him to be patient. The recovery is going to take some time. 

"I say, 'I don’t have too much time. I gotta produce,'" Cabrera said with another laugh. "People aren't going to understand that. There’s no time for excuses. I don't like to use excuses, I'm not going to be the excuse guy. It is what it is. Worry? I don’t worry, but I’m working hard to get back to my normal position." 

Entering Wednesday's night's game, Cabrera is sitting on 466 career homers. It's a number he's aware of, he said, because joining the 500 home run club means a lot to him. He'd be the 28th player to reach the milestone.

A couple years ago, it felt like a foregone conclusion. It probably still is. But Cabrera needs 34 more homers to get there, and he's got a total of 20 over the last three seasons. He does his best not to think about it, just like he tries to keep from thinking about the power he might never recover. 

But it's important to him. 

"Really important," he said. "Not to me, (but) to my family and to the city of Detroit. Like I’ve said in the past, Detroit has been so great to me. I’m always going to appreciate the way they treat me here."

And perhaps Tigers fans can still appreciate Cabrera, home runs or not. 

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