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A sometimes-irreverent look at Detroit's Boys of Summer, the Tigers, as they try to return to the top of the American League Central.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

TIGERS PREVIEW: Position-by-position — Infield

(Prince Fielder, 1B [pictured, left]; Omar Infante, 2B; Jhonny Peralta, SS; Miguel Cabrera, 3B [pictured, right]) [TO RETURN TO THE MAIN STORY, CLICK HERE]

Reliability and consistency.

With all the offensive production contributed by the Tigers’ two corner infielders, the part that so often gets overlooked is their durability.

First baseman Prince Fielder brought his streak of consecutive games played over from the Brewers when he signed with the Tigers last January, then played all 162 games in his first season in Detroit. His streak of 342 games coming into the season was the longest active consecutive games-played streak in the majors. It dates back to Sept. 14, 2010, when he missed a game with flu-like symptoms, snapping a 327-game streak. In all, Fielder played in 959 of a possible 972 games with the Brewers since becoming a regular in 2006.

“I knew about his durability, and his power. How much he loved to play. I knew that. To be honest with you, I didn’t really know much about Prince. Very athletic and he runs pretty good. Worked out OK for us,” manager Jim Leyland said of his knowledge of the burly first baseman before he signed with the Tigers.

So what did he find out after one season?

“I mean, I knew he was a star, but I didn’t know he was as athletic as he is, I didn’t know he ran as good as he does, and I didn’t know that he was as good a pure hitter. I knew he was a force because he was a ... home run-type guy,” Leyland said.

“But this guy’s athletic, and this guy showed last year he can get a big hit, two out, man on second, to the opposite field, off a tough pitcher. That’s pretty good.”

After a brief adjustment period to start the season, Fielder lived up to his reputation, recording his sixth straight 30-home run season, and his fifth 100-RBI total in six seasons.

He also hit a career-best .313, tied for sixth-best in the American League. That’s despite teams constantly employing a defensive shift against him, and many teams choosing just to walk him, instead of pitching to him. Fielder tied for the MLB lead in intentional walks with 18.

“He’s a power hitter, but a very good hitter. Sometimes you get a big power hitter that’s not a very good hitter. Prince Fielder is a very good hitter, and you saw that last year, early on in particular, hitting the ball to the opposite field. Drove in big runs with two outs, turned on some later on, hit (30 home runs). But he’s really a professional hitter,” Leyland said.

“For the most part, he has a terrific knowledge of the strike zone.

This guy’s a real good hitter. He’s not just a power guy. If you think about it, our three and four, they’re both really good hitters. They’re not just two big, strong guys that hit home runs. They’re far from that. They’re both terrific hitters.

“They’re good.”

And then there’s Miguel Cabrera, who won the first Triple Crown since 1967, turning his monster year in to the second straight MVP award to come to Detroit. Cabrera led the majors in home runs (44) and RBI (139), posting career highs in both categories, and won his second straight AL batting title.

Leyland has said he’s never seen a better right-handed hitter than Cabrera.

“No, I have not. I think the combination of the hitting ability for average, and the combination of power, no I haven’t,” the skipper said on the “Mike Lupica Show” on ESPN.

“He’s certainly the best I’ve had, and I think he’s the best in baseball, right now. I think he’s the best right-hand hitter in baseball. I don’t think there’s ever been anybody — I mean, this is really going out on a limb; you get some backlash from some of the veterans, and the guys that played years ago — I personally have never seen anybody with the opposite-field power like Miguel Cabrera. I doubt there’s anybody that’s played the game that hits the ball to the opposite field — I’m not talking about pull power, I’m talking opposite-field power. He’s the best I’ve ever seen.”

He’s incredibly durable, too.

Since his first full season with Florida in 2004, third baseman Miguel Cabrera has missed 29 total games — and just one each of the last two seasons.

The middle of the infield may have far less glamor and glitz, but it’s very serviceable, with two of the “old shoe” types of players that Leyland loves.

While the Tigers have been rumored to be trying to upgrade at shortstop for the past couple of offseasons, they may get an upgrade by sticking with the same player they’ve had. After struggling for much of the early portion of 2012, shortstop Jhonny Peralta worked on agility drills with Tigers strength and conditioning coordinator Javair Gillett in the second half, and reportedly had lost weight coming into this season.

“I think he moved better the second half of last season. He’s working on those (agility drills) now, along with the weight loss, and I think he’ll have even improved range. But he’s not ever going to have great range. He is not going to be (Elvis) Andrus, let’s say, at shortstop, that type of guy. But it doesn’t mean that he’s not a real good major league player,” Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski said.

“We like him. He’s a solid guy.

“We think we’re very solid up the middle with Infante and Peralta, and we like the combo.”

Peralta will never have the most range at shortstop, but he’s relatively reliable on balls hit right at him.

Where they most need an improvement from Peralta is with the bat, where he regressed from his All-Star numbers in 2011.

Omar Infante may have only hit .257 after being acquired with Anibal Sanchez at the trade deadline, but he gave the Tigers a bit of speed they’d been lacking, as well as a stop to the revolving door at second base that was killing the Tigers through the first four months of the 2012 season.

He’s fully recovered from a broken hand suffered in the final game of the World Series, and played for Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic.


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