New era for Tigers begins with Miggy's lowest batting spot in 14 years

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A new era of Tigers baseball begins Friday at Comerica Park. Javier Baez will be at short. Spencer Torkelson will be at first. Riley Greene would have been in center, with Austin Meadows in left. Eduardo Rodriguez will be on the mound, with Tucker Barnhart behind the plate.

And batting fifth will be designated hitter Miguel Cabrera, AJ Hinch confirmed Friday on the Stoney & Jansen Show. It marks the first time Cabrera will bat lower than fourth in the starting lineup since 2008, his first season with the Tigers. You talk about a new era.

Cabrera, 38, has hit third or fourth in over 90 percent of his big-league at-bats. He hit mostly fourth last season, exclusively third the season before that. He was moved from fifth in the Tigers' lineup to fourth by then-manager Jim Leyland on Aug. 13, 2008 and never dropped again for the next 13 years. Welcome to 2022.

Far from the hitter he once was, Cabrera has been displaced from the heart of the order by Baez, Detroit's $140 million free agent signing who has more homers over the last four seasons than all but two shortstops in the majors, and third baseman Jeimer Candelario, who tied for the big-league lead in doubles last season. He's also been displaced from first base by Torkelson.

Hinch talked with Cabrera at the start of spring training about the possibility of dropping him in the lineup and said the future Hall of Famer took it in stride. With two years left in his career, Cabrera just wants to win. Fact is, his OPS of .727 over the last three seasons ranks outside the top 125 hitters in baseball.

"Miggy's in a good place understanding that our best players need to be on the field. He lobbied for Tork (to make the team) early in the spring. That tells me as much as I need to know about where Miguel Cabrera's head is at," said Hinch. "He wants a chance at more playoff at-bats, he wants to be a mentor to a lot of different people and he's been all-in from the very beginning.

"He just wants to feel success again. And he's still going to play first base from time to time. Tork is going to get a day off or I might DH somebody different, and there's an adjustment period for him that he doesn't have to be the total center of attention. We still need a productive Miguel Cabrera to complete our lineup."

Cabrera is 13 hits shy of 3,000. When he gets there, he'll become just the seventh player in MLB history who also has 500 homers. He's a living legend, one of the greatest right-handed hitters of all time. But his prime is in the past and the Tigers, after a grueling rebuild, are once again playing for the present. Cabrera gets it, for which Hinch is grateful.

"It's great because he sets the mood and the tone in the clubhouse," Hinch said. "He's been super happy, and being candid, I think it's because of what's happened this offseason. When Al (Avila) goes out and signs Baez and we retain (Jonathan) Schoop last year, we trade for Meadows, we get Eduardo Rodriguez, Tucker Barnhart -- that battery today is brand new. I think it's the first time in the last few years that Miggy has had some hope."

Same for the Tigers, who begin a new era with a Hall of Famer in an old position.