Cabr­era preps to bounce back

With new work­outs, GM fore­sees slug­ger ‘stronger than ever’

The Detroit News - - Front Page - BY CHRIS MCCOSKY The Detroit News chris.mccosky@de­troit­ twit­­c­cosky Twit­ter @cm­c­cosky

— Slug­ger Vladimir Guer­rero be­gan hav­ing back prob­lems in 2003 when he was 28 years old, disk is­sues that he would deal with through the last eight years of his ca­reer.

That was be­tween 2004 and 2011, be­tween the ages of 29 and 36. He pro­duced 215 home runs and 794 RBIs and made five all­star teams in that stretch, bat­ting .313 with a .523 slug­ging per­cent­age and .891 OPS.

Doc­tors thought Pudge Ro­driguez’s ca­reer was all but over when the Tigers signed him in 2004.

He’d al­ready caught more than 1,600 games and tests showed se­vere dam­age in his lower back.

But then Tigers owner Mike Il­itch was un­de­terred and Ro­driguez went on to make four straight all-star teams. From 2004 to the end of his ca­reer in 2011, from ages 32 to 39, Ro­driguez played an­other 920 games, hit .283 with a .421 slug­ging and .735 OPS.

These are just two of a mul­ti­tude of ex­am­ples of play­ers who have not only ex­tended their ca­reers, but been pro­duc­tive play­ers, de­spite chronic back pain caused by bulging or her­ni­ated disks.

It’s those kinds of sto­ries that give the Tigers hope that Miguel Cabr­era can sim­i­larly bounce back de­spite the two her­ni­ated disks in his lower back that de­railed his 2017 sea­son.

“There is no rea­son Miguel can’t fol­low that pat­tern,” gen­eral man­ager Al Avila said dur­ing the gen­eral man­agers’ meet­ings. “We ex­pect him to come back ready to go.”

Cabr­era, just as Guer­rero and Ro­driguez did, com­pletely re­vamped his off-sea­son work­out reg­i­men. No more heavy weight lift­ing and a lot more core strength and flex­i­bil­ity ex­er­cises.

“He is do­ing very good,” Avila said. “I’ve talked to him twice now. He ac­tu­ally started his rou­tines right af­ter the sea­son was over. He’s work­ing on his core mus­cles. It’s a whole dif­fer­ent work­out pro­gram than what he had be­fore.”

The goal is to build up the mus­cles that sup­port the back and Cabr­era has fully em­braced the new rou­tine.

“Right now, in talk­ing to him, he is prob­a­bly go­ing to be stronger than ever,” Avila said. “You know how dur­ing the sea­son he lost all that weight? He also lost strength. So he was weak in cer­tain ar­eas.

“That’s what he’s do­ing now. He got the weight off, but now he’s strength­en­ing those mus­cles around the core that give him that sup­port.”

Doc­tors told Cabr­era that the weight loss, with­out the cor­re­spond­ing core strength, was worth­less and that bore out last sea­son. They also told him, with im­proved core strength, he could main­tain his nor­mal weight — which is 25-35 pounds more than he car­ried most of last sea­son.

Ini­tially, the plan was for Cabr­era to un­dergo six weeks of re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion and core strength­en­ing and flex­i­bil­ity ex­er­cises be­fore he could be­gin do­ing any baseball ac­tiv­ity. He’s al­ready in the eighth week of re­hab.

But Cabr­era at the end of the sea­son said he wasn’t go­ing to cut cor­ners. That’s why he op­posed get­ting an epidu­ral in­jec­tion.

“I don’t want to get an in­jec­tion be­cause I don’t want to put a band-aid on my in­jury,” he said Sept. 27 in Kansas City. “I can’t just put a Band-Aid on it and say I don’t have the in­jury now. There is no rea­son to do that.

“Let’s work out, do the ther­apy and the phys­i­cal train­ing and see where we are. If I need the in­jec­tion next year if it’s both­er­ing me again, then I will take it.

“But now, no. There is no rea­son to do it.”

Cabr­era will be 35 next sea­son and he’s owed at least $184 mil­lion through his age-40 sea­son. He posted ca­reer-lows last sea­son in av­er­age (.249), slug­ging (.399), home runs (16) and RBIs (60). Two more ex­am­ples:

David Or­tiz played seven sea­sons af­ter he turned 34. He hit 224 home runs with 700 RBIs, bat­ting .292 with a .562 slug­ging and .945 OPS.

Al­bert Pu­jols has played four sea­sons af­ter he turned 34. He’s hit 122 home runs with 420 RBIs, bat­ting .257 with a .448 slug­ging and .758 OPS.

If Cabr­era can pro­duce some­where in be­tween those two stan­dards, prefer­ably much closer to Or­tiz’s, the Tigers’ re­build­ing plan will have at least one very sturdy pil­lar. win be­fore it is. Also, coun­ter­pro­duc­tive but tempt­ing are cos­metic deals, deals that may ap­pease the fan base, put some butts in the seats, but de­tract from the ul­ti­mate plan.

“If there is a trade to be made or a player to be signed for this year that makes sense and makes us bet­ter one way or an­other, that’s what we will pur­sue,” Avila said. “If it hap­pens to be a player fans are re­ally ex­cited about, great. But we can’t ac­quire peo­ple or make trades that will make us weaker down the road just to be happy today.

“You re­ally have to have the big pic­ture in front of you. You’ve got to have pa­tience, dis­ci­pline and you’ve got to have thick skin.”

What you hope is you find an­other Mah­took in a low-pro­file trade. You get an­other Daniel Stumpf in the Rule 5 draft. Or maybe a mi­nor-league sign­ing, com­pletely un­her­alded at the time, blos­soms into J.D. Martinez. That’s of­ten how foun­da­tions are built.

“We’re not los­ing on pur­pose,” Avila said. “The fact that we are mak­ing this tran­si­tion and re­build­ing the or­ga­ni­za­tion — los­ing is a prod­uct of that. It’s not that you are try­ing to lose; the process will cause you to lose.

“But Gardy (new man­ager Ron Gar­den­hire) is not go­ing to ac­cept los­ing. He’s go­ing to try to win ev­ery game he can and so are we.

Maybe we can’t do it be­cause right now we don’t have the best play­ers. But we are try­ing to ac­quire what we can.”

Some­times, too, foun­da­tions are built ir­re­spec­tive of tal­ent.

“Make them play the game the right way,” Avila said. “Teach the game the right way so when they come out and play — maybe we don’t win this game — but we played to win and we played the game the right way.

“I think the fans will ap­pre­ci­ate that.”

But make no mis­take about it — Pudge, Mag­glio and Kenny aren’t walk­ing through those doors any time soon.

Robin Buck­son/Detroit News

Miguel Cabr­era has em­braced a reg­i­men that fo­cuses on build­ing up mus­cles that sup­port the back.

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