The Detroit Tigers benched Miguel Cabrera before the seventh inning of Monday's game as a precaution because of back tightness. He then missed Tuesday's game, and before manager AJ Hinch could submit Wednesday's lineup card, the game was postponed.
The status of the 38-year-old's health remains unclear. His back tightened up after he fell at first base trying to make a defensive play on a ball in the dirt.
"When the (Tuesday) game got changed to a day game, he was off," Hinch said Tuesday morning in his most recent update. "Then the (Monday) game happens, and he's a little bit sore. I actually haven't seen him today yet. I haven't gone back to the training room. I'm anticipating he's fine if nobody called me early."
In his 19th big-league season, Cabrera is hitting .257 with 15 home runs, 71 RBIs, 40 walks and 113 strikeouts over 122 games — playing 43 games as the Tigers' first baseman and 76 as the designated hitter. He became the 28th player in MLB history to reach 500 home runs, doing so Aug. 22 in Toronto.
Cabrera spoke last September about wanting to play first base again, after spending all of 2020 as the designated hitter. Before 2021 Opening Day, the future Hall of Famer hadn't taken the field at first base since June 18, 2019.
"I hope they can give me more time to play first," Cabrera said in September 2020. "I need to be in the field. I'm learning how to be a DH right now, but it's hard for me to go hit and then go sit and think about what I'm going to do in my next at-bat. In the past, I'd forget about hitting and play defense. ... I want to spend a little more time at first base next year."
Once Hinch was hired in late October, he put together a plan to grant Cabrera's wish. In 2021, the results deem Cabrera's assessment correct: His overall production is better as a first baseman, rather than as a designated hitter.
When playing first base, Cabrera boasts a .301 batting average (46-for-153) with six doubles, seven home runs, 36 RBIs, 20 walks and 31 strikeouts. As a designated hitter, however, he is hitting just .228 (65-for-285) with seven doubles, eight homers, 33 RBIs, 20 walks and 82 strikeouts. (He is also 2-for-2 with one walk and two RBIs as a pinch-hitter.)
"I think he is very engaged on the first base side," Hinch said. "I think it's a little bit hard to say like, now all of a sudden he's going to hit a certain way because he's playing first base. He loves playing the game in its entirety. Maybe that factors in a little bit, but I don't really look into that too much."
Cabrera is a career .316 hitter over 1,191 games at first base, also hitting .331 as a third baseman (693 games), .296 as a left fielder (242 games), .308 as a right fielder (100 games) and .260 as a designated hitter (336 games).
Those results are somewhat misleading.
After all, Cabrera won two American League MVP awards (2012-13) and the Triple Crown in 2012 as a third baseman. It wasn't until 2018 that he took on a greater role at designated hitter due to health concerns. Past his prime, Cabrera hasn't been the same player since.
The small sample in 2021 showcases Cabrera as a much better hitter when he plays first base. But no matter what the numbers detail, Hinch can't simply make Cabrera a full-time first baseman again — at least not without risking more of what happened in Monday's game.
"The goal is to get as many games out of him as we can by doing both," Hinch said. "In some ways, it doesn't matter whether first base is the answer for that because it still becomes an overall health question on how much he can handle."
Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Is Detroit Tigers' Miguel Cabrera better when he plays first base?