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Rays

Tigers' Cabrera in a zone of his own

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Published:   |   Updated: June 4, 2013 at 12:33 PM
DETROIT -

The feeling Jamey Wright has when Miguel Cabrera steps to the plate is exactly the same feeling he had when he faced Tony Gwynn and Barry Bonds and Albert Pujols when Pujols was terrorizing National League pitchers a few years back.

It's the same feeling every pitcher has when the reigning American League Triple Crown winner has a bat in his hand and is looking directly at them, the Rays pitcher said.

“When you're facing someone who is the best, you think, 'Let's see what we got?' Everyone's velocity pops up a couple of miles an hour. You try to throw the nastiest curveball,” Wright said. “For Cabrera to do what he's doing, he's seeing everyone's absolute best, and it doesn't even matter.”

And it hasn't mattered for some time.

Cabrera, who led the American League in 2012 in batting average (.330), home runs (44) and RBIs (139), is at it again this season.

The Detroit Tigers third baseman enters this series against the Rays that begins tonight with a league-leading .367 average, a league-high 65 RBIs and 17 home runs, which are second in the league to the 20 hit by Baltimore first baseman Chris Davis. Cabrera also leads the league in runs (45), hits (83) and on-base percentage (.442).

“Whenever we play them I try to talk to him and get his thoughts and see what he's thinking up there,” Rays third baseman Evan Longoria said. “But sometimes it's hard to understand a genius' mind and how he thinks.”

Cabrera, who also won the batting title with a .344 average in 2011, is the 12th player since 1901 to win a Triple Crown — Ted Williams and Rogers Hornsby both did it twice. He's trying to become the first player in 14 tries to earn a Triple Crown in back-to-back seasons.

“He's an incredible, incredible hitter,” Longoria said. “He has the ability to cover every pitch, which nobody in this game can do except for him, and he has that ability to never go cold. Every time I see him in the box I think he's going to hit the ball 500 feet.”

Slumps? Not often. Cabrera carries a .320 career batting average.

“He never looks like he's in trouble, never,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “And if he's ever been in a slump I'd like to see the video, because I've never seen it.”

Maddon joked that maybe — maybe — Cabrera had a bad round of batting practice two weeks ago.

“This guy is unique,” Maddon said. “He knows how to drive in a run. He'll take what the pitcher gives him. He's satisfied to shoot a ball (to right field) with a runner in scoring position. He's just smart. He plays the game smart and he plays a pretty good third base for a big man, too.”

Cabrera has a .341 career average with five home runs and 19 RBIs against the current members of the Rays staff. He's faced Roberto Hernandez the most and is 12-for-36 (.333) with three home runs and seven RBIs against Thursday's starter.

He is 6-for-15 with an RBI against Kyle Farnsworth and 5-for-15 with a home run and seven RBIs against Wright.

“He's the best hitter in the game,” Wright said. “He's the hardest out. He seems like he just barrels everything, he squares everything up. He's one of those guys who's kind of like Barry Bonds, you want to make (darn) sure you get out all the guys in front of him and have him come up with nobody on base, because he's an RBI machine.”

Every hitter can be pitched to, and every hitter will get himself out from time-to-time. But Wright said there really isn't any way to pitch to Cabrera, and forget Cabrera getting himself out. Rarely will he foul off or pop up a pitch he was looking for.

“There's no little spot on the zone where it says, 'You stay right here, you're going to be fine,'” Wright said. “You have to change speeds. You have to move in and out. He's looking for one pitch and if you throw it he's not going to miss it.

“So you have to play that game where you don't throw the same pitch in the same spot twice back-to-back. You mix hard and soft and in and out and up and down and hope that nobody's on base. That's the best approach for that guy, because he is some kind of special hitter.”

The key for the Rays pitchers during these next three games is to limit the amount of damage Cabrera can do against them.

“He's going to get his hits. He's going to get his home runs,” said Alex Cobb, Wednesday's starter. “If you can try to limit the amount of runners on when you have to face him and pitch him carefully, I think that's the formula for success on him. But at the same time, people have been trying to figure it out for years. There is nothing.”

And, if you are fortunate enough to retire Cabrera, Wright said it is important to fight the impulse to relax.

“The key is not to take a deep breath, because all of a sudden you're 3-0 to the next guy, and the next guy is Prince Fielder,” Wright said. “It doesn't get any easier.”

Longoria knows what it's like to be hot, to have a 16-game hitting streak, to have a great month, and even he marvels at watching Cabrera hit.

“I think the way he plays the game is pretty cool,” Longoria said. “You can tell he enjoys the game. He loves being out there. Heck, who wouldn't if you were that good.”


rmooney@tampatrib.com

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Twitter: @RMooneyTBO

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