After pulling up lame while running the bases in Friday night's win over the Toronto Blue Jays, Miguel Cabrera was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a left calf strain. The Tigers are still waiting for a second opinion from Dr. Robert Anderson, but the initial prognosis is that Cabrera will be out for at least six weeks. Commence panicking...
Losing Cabrera is a big blow to a Tigers lineup that has already struggled to score runs this year, but the timing of his injury really stings this time around. With a healthy Victor Martinez and Alex Avila joining a red-hot J.D. Martinez in the middle of the order, things were looking up for the Tigers offense. They may still be able to put up solid numbers -- there is still plenty of talent in that lineup -- but losing a Hall of Famer to injury is never a good thing.
In order to minimize the damage, manager Brad Ausmus will have several different lineup combinations at his disposal now that Cabrera is not penciled in at first base everyday. Similar to when Victor Martinez was on the disabled list, the Tigers can mix and match players at first base in order to field the most effective lineup possible on any given day.
Or, as the old Abbott and Costello sketch goes, "Who's on first?"
In 2014, Victor Martinez would be the one to grab a first baseman's mitt whenever Cabrera needed a day off. However, after a second major knee surgery in three years, Ausmus will not use Martinez in the field. Andrew Romine finished Friday's game at first base after entering as a pinch-runner, but he doesn't provide the type of offensive firepower one would expect from an everyday first baseman.
Alex Avila, who returned from the disabled list on Friday, is playing first base in Saturday's game. Avila split time at first base in college, and also spent a fair amount of time there during spring training when Cabrera and Martinez were recovering from injuries. Avila will see a fair amount of time at first with Cabrera out, but with only two catchers on the roster, he will still need to spend a fair amount of time behind the plate. Plus, Avila's platoon splits will likely keep him out of the lineup against left-handed pitchers.
Things could get interesting when Avila is not at first. Romine has filled in for Cabrera at times this year, but the Tigers could also look to Nick Castellanos or Jefry Marte, both of whom typically play third base, as fill-ins across the diamond. Marte has a reputation as a solid defender at third base, but has played a small handful of games at first in his time in the minor leagues.
Castellanos has improved significantly at third base since last season, but is still only a league average defender at best. Depending on the team's future plans for him, they may slot him at first base periodically over the next few weeks until Cabrera is back in the lineup.