Cabrera exceeds own expectations in return
Hits a pair of doubles in first game since fracturing orbital bone
SARASOTA, Fla. -- Miguel Cabrera wasn't looking for some sort of big test Friday in his first game since taking a bad-hop ground ball to his face and breaking his right orbital bone March 19 against the Phillies. He didn't need ground balls or particularly tough pitches.
After more than a week, most of it without any physical activity, Cabrera just wanted to move around.
"I want to be out there," he said. "I want to get my body moving. I want to get some ground balls and be ready for the season."
He only had one ground ball, and a pretty easy one at that for an inning-ending force out at third, but he still moved around plenty thanks to a swing that never seems like it needs much work.
Cabrera stepped to the plate in his first at-bat and sent an opposite-field double into the right-field corner off O's left-hander Brian Matusz, driving in Austin Jackson and Brennan Boesch. Two innings later, again facing Matusz, he lined another double to left field.
"I felt comfortable, got two good swings," Cabrera said.
Cabrera left after four innings. Manager Jim Leyland said he'll play the remainder of the Tigers' Grapefruit League schedule before the team heads north Tuesday night.
Below struggles in what could prove pivotal outing
SARASOTA, Fla. -- Duane Below didn't want to say Friday was a do-or-die outing for him, because he still feels he can win the fifth starter job in the final few days without another outing. Still, even if he didn't lose it, he sounded like somebody who missed out on a chance to win it.
"I feel like I've competed every time I've been out there and I've shown what I can do," Below said. "I've attacked the strike zone on multiple occasions. I still feel like I have a chance. I still have an opportunity for it. But I still have a lot to prove to show that they can trust me."
Friday's four-walk second inning wasn't exactly a trust-builder. It wasn't that Below was wild the entire afternoon, because he had effective innings on either side of the second. His struggle was trying to correct his mechanical problem in the middle of an inning, rather than having to wait until between innings to do it.
"He didn't make the adjustment," manager Jim Leyland said.
Below retired the first four Orioles he faced before giving up a one-out walk to Mark Reynolds. He gave up walks to the next two hitters after that, recovered briefly with a popout from Jai Miller, then walked Robert Andino to force in a run.
At that point, he hadn't allowed hit. That didn't come until Adam Jones took him deep off a curveball the next inning.
All four walks came on five-pitch plate appearances. Almost all of those pitches were fastballs, many of them sailing up and out of the strike zone. Not until he started mixing in breaking balls the next inning did he shake it off.
"He kind of fixed it," Leyland said, "But he didn't fix it while he was going through it."
Below gave up three runs on three hits with four walks and a strikeout over 3 1/3 innings. He threw 46 of his 78 pitches for strikes in what could be the last outing under the microscope before Leyland and the Tigers decide on a fifth starter.
Drew Smyly is on turn to pitch Monday against the Blue Jays, but the Tigers could make their choice by then.
"I know Drew's been pitching well," Below said, "and I know all the other guys that got sent down were pitching well as well. My mindset wasn't focused on Drew or anybody else. It was on myself, if I came in, threw strikes and did the quality pitches like I did against the Yankees or throughout spring. Today, four walks in one inning."
Santos makes positive impression in camp
SARASOTA, Fla. -- The Tigers' move to send Omir Santos back to minor-league camp had been expected since before Spring Training began. The Tigers like him as an insurance catcher, which is why they wanted him back for a second year, but he was never going to win a roster spot as long as Alex Avila and Gerald Laird were healthy.
That said, Santos still left for Triple-A Toledo on a high note with manager Jim Leyland.
"Santos had a heck of a camp," Leyland said. "He quietly hit the ball very well this spring, did a good job."
Santos is expected to serve as the primary catcher for the Mud Hens. However, he could still end up sharing duties with prospect Bryan Holaday, who was not listed on the final roster for Double-A Erie when it was released Friday.
Plagman homers, triples in cameo appearance
SARASOTA, Fla. -- Lloyd McClendon was noticing Tony Plagman's stats from Class A Lakeland on a road trip when he talked with him about it.
"He knocked in 97 runs last year in Lakeland," manager Jim Leyland said. "He told us he likes to knock 'em in."
His stats Friday won't count once the regular season begins for him in a week. The memory of a home run, triple and three RBIs in a Tigers uniform might last a while, though.
The home run came off veteran reliever Luis Ayala, jumping on a first pitch and sending it deep to left to tie the game in the seventh. The triple was a drive to right-center off O's closer Jim Johnson, driving in Curt Casali and Daniel Fields to pull the Tigers ahead 6-4.
Brandon Inge was scheduled to make the trip for Friday's game, and his absence raised suspicions something could be up. However, manager Jim Leyland said that Inge had a small groin injury he tweaked running down the line on Thursday night's game-ending double play, and that they held him back as a precaution.
As expected, Leyland confirmed his pitching rotation for the rest of the season-opening series against the Red Sox beyond Opening Day. Doug Fister will start the second game of that series next Saturday, April 7, with Max Scherzer starting the next day. He did not confirm the starters for the next series against the Rays.
Tigers minor leaguer Thad Weber is tentatively slated to pitch Sunday's split-squad game against the Mets at Port St. Lucie. Prince Fielder is among the big-league players scheduled to make the trip.