Miggy's hard work at plate easy to overlook

Miggy's hard work at plate easy to overlook

Miggy's hard work at plate easy to overlook
DETROIT -- The first words on a lazy Sunday morning from Tigers hitting coach Lloyd McClendon on Miguel Cabrera's past week might have summed up his situation best.

"I guess more than anything, it proves that he's human," McClendon said with a slight smile.

Cabrera's human for falling into the biggest slump since he was a 20-year-old rookie. Yet the work he put in to work his way out of it showed why he has been one of baseball's great hitters.

Cabrera doesn't necessarily feel like he's completely out of his doldrums yet, but he's feeling more like himself as a hitter.

"It's early right now, but you need to step up and try to do better," Cabrera said Sunday, "because you don't want to be like this the whole year."

He said that after a two-hit game Sunday that raised his average to .290. Stretch that over a full season with a pace for more than 120 RBIs, and it's a very good year for 95 percent of Major Leaguers. For a reigning batting champion who has hit .320 or better in six of his eight full Major League seasons, it's a little shy of where he wants to be.

Cabrera expects to get back there. So does McClendon.

"He has his struggles from time to time where he doesn't see the ball as well as he'd like to," McClendon said. "The amazing thing about him, though, is he knows how to grind it and get back out of it."

Evidence of Cabrera's hitting mortality doesn't come up very often at the plate. The way he hit last weekend, it wasn't entirely clear except on the stats sheet as the zeros piled up, the 7s for fly balls to left, the 5-3 groundouts and popouts to second.

Add them up, and Cabrera went 0-for-22 over a six-game stretch, one at-bat shy of the longest 0-fer of his career. He went 0-for-12 with a walk last weekend against the White Sox, a series in which his biggest highlight was his correct observation that the grounds crew had drawn the batter's box too far forward.

The White Sox have always had a good plan against Cabrera. His .258 lifetime batting average against them is 55 points lower than any other American League Central opponent has pitched him, and his .807 OPS off Chicago pitching is his lowest against any AL foe. Still, their ability to seemingly work Cabrera inside without giving up the big drives he usually gets on inside pitches was stellar.

It was good enough that the effects seemed to carry into Kansas City, where Cabrera went hitless against rookie lefty Danny Duffy last Monday.

"In Chicago, I was trying to do too much at home plate, and I screwed up my stance, screwed up my swing," Cabrera said. "I worked in Kansas City. I'm still working now. If I need to, I'll work next week. I'll try and bring my swing more consistent, because I'm swinging at a lot of bad pitches and I have a lot of ground balls to third base. That's not part of my game."

It happens, even to great hitters like Cabrera, but it's rare. Ichiro Suzuki had an 0-for-21 slump in 2005, the year after he won the batting title with a .372 average. Carlos Gonzalez had an 0-for-25 stretch last April after winning the National League batting crown the previous year.

Cabrera had his ups and downs as a rookie, but his longest hitless streak after that first season was an 0-for-16 streak in 2007, his final year in Florida. It was an odd look for someone with so much natural hitting ability, especially to hit the ball so hard to the opposite field.

Cabrera's ability is evident just watching him. It's so easy to spot that the work he puts in on hitting gets overshadowed.

When asked how much video work Cabrera puts in, McClendon paused.

"Miguel looks at video from time to time, but most of the video is in his head," McClendon said. "He's very unique in that manner. We can talk about a situation that happened last year, versus [Jered] Weaver in Anaheim, 2-1 count, and he'll know exactly what I'm talking about. It's just absolutely amazing, his memory for pitchers, what they did, what they tried to in certain situations. That's what makes him great.

"That's the trait you find in the great hitters. The rest of us are watching black-and-white [television]. He's watching 60-inch, high-definition Trinitron. He's watching a little different TV than we're watching."

Just as important, Cabrera translates that to the plate with repetitions.

"We got a lot of extra work in, a lot of hitting, trying to get my bat speed more quick," Cabrera said, "because we're facing a lot of tough pitchers right now. They're going to throwing 95, 97 [mph]."

Cabrera's hitless streak ended on a simple line-drive single to left. As he rolled into first base, he asked for the ball as a joke. Cabrera proceeded to go on an 8-for-16 tear, though a home run last Saturday was the only extra-base hit during the stretch. Many of those hits went to left and center field.

Cabrera's drive off the right-field fence Sunday, though it ended with him getting thrown out at second base, looked more like his typical form. When the game was over, he was looking forward to a day off to rest.

His hitting coach is looking forward to what's next.

"In a way, it's good, because it brought some things to light that he needed to work on," McClendon said. "And I think when we face those guys again, he'll be better because of it."

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.