Detroit Tigers left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez spent his entire 2012 season for Low-A Delmarva, an affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles. He was 19 years old at the time and three seasons away from making his MLB debut.
That year, Miguel Cabrera — a fellow Venezuelan — made history in the big leagues.
He won the first Triple Crown since Carl Yastrzemski for the Boston Red Sox in 1967. Cabrera, now 39, led the American League with a .330 batting average, 44 home runs and 139 RBIs.
“Who didn’t watch that?” Rodriguez said, 10 years later. “If you’re from Venezuela, you’re going to watch that. Baseball players from Venezuela, you watch Miggy all the time. To have the opportunity to see it on TV, it was something special. You were watching the king play on TV.”
Rodriguez signed a five-year, $77 million contract with the Tigers in November. The 29-year-old joined forces with Cabrera, who influenced his decision to sign with Detroit.
Rodriguez has admired Cabrera for most of his life. They became friends in 2014 while working out at the same training facility in Miami.
And Cabrera is five hits away from the historic 3,000 milestone.
“For me, it’s something special, especially for my country,” Rodriguez said, before the Tigers opened a three-game series against the New York Yankees at Comerica Park. “I know how big he is in my country, how big he is in Venezuela. It’s going to be something special to be part of it, and I really appreciate being part of that. I’m going to be here for when he gets 3,000 hits, and I can’t wait for that moment.”
Cabrera, from Maracay in Venezuela, leads his country in MLB hits (2,995), doubles (559), home runs (502), RBIs (1,807) and bWAR (68.72).
He trails only Omar Vizquel (2,968) and Hall of Famer Luis Aparicio (2,599) for total games played. Cabrera has competed in 2,596 games — with a .310 batting average — in his 20-year MLB career, so he will soon pass Aparicio.
“He’s No. 1 from my country,” Rodriguez said.
Other notable hitters from Venezuela include Dave Concepcion (2,488 games), Bobby Abreu (2,425), Andres Galarraga (2,257), Ozzie Guillen (1,993), Victor Martinez (1,973), Magglio Ordonez (1,848), Asdrubal Cabrera (1,822) and Elvis Andrus (1,809).
“I would say like 90% of the country is going to be watching the game, where he is looking for one, two hits,” Rodriguez said. “The whole country is going to be watching. That’s how big it’s going to be in Venezuela when he gets to 3,000.”
When Cabrera notches 3,000 hits, he’ll become the seventh player in MLB history with at least 500 home runs and 3,000 hits, alongside Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Eddie Murray, Rafael Palmeiro, Albert Pujols and Alex Rodriguez. Only two of those players — Aaron and Pujols — also boast 600 doubles.
“When you’re talking about something that six or seven people have done in the history of the game,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said, “we’ll be lucky if we ever get to see it again in our careers and in our lifetime. We’ll give it a proper celebration.”
Rodriguez faced Cabrera for the first time in 2016.
The Venezuelans have matched up for 15 plate appearances, with Cabrera posting a .231 batting average (3-for-13), two walks and five strikeouts. Cabrera does not have any extra-base hits off Rodriguez.
“Every time I faced him, he was just having fun all the time,” Rodriguez said. “Every at-bat, every count, every time. The way he is, I was trying to be that way every time I faced him. I can’t tell you exactly about facing the real Miguel Cabrera, which is the one who hit homers and all that.”
Rodriguez makes a fair point.
Cabrera isn’t the same player he used to be. His Hall of Fame résumé features a surplus of milestones: winning the 2003 World Series, back-to-back MVP awards, seven Silver Slugger awards and four batting titles. Still, Cabrera hasn’t made an All-Star Game since 2016.
But that doesn’t mean he isn’t dangerous at the plate in 2022.
“It’s the same with Pujols,” Rodriguez said. “He’s old and whatever, but if you leave a pitch down the middle, he’s going to take it out of the ballpark. That’s the same way everybody sees Miggy. No matter how old he is, you know who he is and what damage he can do.”
Willi Castro returns
The Tigers placed shortstop Javier Báez on the 10-day injured list with right thumb soreness, and since he isn’t eligible to return until Saturday at the earliest, the Tigers needed a replacement.
Willi Castro has returned.
“I was waiting for this time,” Castro said. “I think this is where I belong. … When I got sent down, I was not happy, obviously, like everybody else. But it’s good to be back. I’m going to come with the mentality to play hard every day and make the team win.”
The Tigers had a few options to choose from to fill the shortstop void. Castro, Zack Short and Kody Clemens were viable choices on the 40-man roster, while Ryan Kreidler — the organization’s No. 7 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline — isn’t on the 40-man roster.
“Willi can play,” Hinch said. “I think he can help us win. There’s a variety of reasons why you make roster moves when you make them. With Willi being the first man up, it’s the first opportunity for him to come back and help us win. … Hopefully he steps up.”
Castro hit .265 (9-for-34) in eight games for Triple-A Toledo, tossing in two walks and 10 strikeouts. The 24-year-old played 125 games for the Tigers last season, hitting .220 with nine home runs, 38 RBIs, a 5.1% walk rate and a 24.2% strikeout rate.
He was worth minus-12 defensive runs saved at second base, shortstop and left field.
“I know I struggled a lot last year,” Castro said. “This year, I come prepared to be here. I’ll see where they’re going to fit me when Javy comes back. I’ll be here. Wherever they want me to play, I will be there playing and focusing on making the team win.”
Right-hander Casey Mize (right elbow sprain), on the 10-day injured list, is being evaluated daily. The Tigers are treating his symptoms but don’t know when he will start throwing again.
The 24-year-old will remain shut down until his symptoms subside.
“We haven’t learned anything new,” Hinch said. “It’s a medial elbow sprain. I mean, that’s what it is. It’s going to be that tomorrow, too. There’s nothing more for us to do, other than treat the symptoms and let the inflammation get out of his elbow, and then ramp him back up throwing and make sure that we don’t have any sort of setback.”
Right-hander Matt Manning (right shoulder discomfort) is likely to miss his scheduled start Saturday against the Colorado Rockies, though the Tigers haven’t made an official decision.
The 24-year-old was removed from last Saturday’s outing after two innings and 38 pitches. If Manning misses this Saturday’s game, it will be a precautionary decision from the Tigers.
“The initial diagnosis has been positive,” Hinch said. “It’s not anything that’s going to linger and last a really long time. I think the big question is whether or not he’s going to be available for his start on Saturday. … We’ll see how the next two days go and probably need to have an answer by Thursday.”
Left-handed reliever Andrew Chafin (left groin strain) is scheduled to pitch Thursday for Low-A Lakeland. He will then transition to Triple-A Toledo for one or two relief appearances. After that, the Tigers plan to activate him. He signed a two-year, $13 million contract in March.
“Everything is going very well with Chafin,” Hinch said.
Outfielder Derek Hill (right hamstring strain) advanced to Triple-A Toledo as part of his rehab assignment.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism