Tigers give Cabrera, Polanco a break
Granderson gets rare opportunity as cleanup hitter
BALTIMORE -- Manager Jim Leyland's decision to give scuffling Miguel Cabrera a day off landed the Tigers a new cleanup hitter, and Curtis Granderson's introduction to the four-hole came with a morning full of playful ribbing from his manager and teammates.
"Cleanup hitter!" Leyland announced loudly while strolling by Granderson's locker.
Granderson started in the fourth spot in the batting order for the first time in his Major League career in Sunday's 3-0 victory against the Orioles. He was hard-pressed to remember the last time he occupied that spot.
"I honestly don't remember," said Granderson, who has hit fifth the past five games and leadoff in 165 of 179 games since the start of last season. "In college, I hit third. All through the Minors, I did everything but fourth. High school was first, second, third. I honestly don't know. I was never the biggest kid, and it seems like big kids batted fourth."
With Cabrera 1-for-12 in Baltimore entering Sunday and with just two homers in his past 16 games, Leyland took the opportunity to utilize Monday's scheduled off-day and turn the Sunday break into a two-day vacation for both Cabrera and second baseman Placido Polanco. Jeff Larish replaced Cabrera at first base and hit fifth, while Ramon Santiago got the nod at second, taking over Polanco's customary second spot in the batting order.
The moves paid off enough, as Granderson homered in the fourth off Orioles starter Jason Berken for his only hit and the only run Detroit would need. Larish had two hits, including an insurance RBI double in the eighth inning.
Sundays often present managers an opportunity to give their bench players a shot and tired regulars a break. But the significance of replacing the American League's third-leading hitter -- Cabrera's .355 mark trailed only injured Tampa Bay shortstop Jason Bartlett (.373) and Boston's Kevin Youkilis (.362) entering play Sunday -- wasn't lost on Granderson.
"It will be interesting, though, with Miguel not in there, kind of trying to fill that void," Granderson said. "The good thing about going to [the five-spot] was that I didn't look at it as I had to do anything [different]. Hopefully, the same process will go in there today. I've had the luxury to bat before Magglio [Ordonez], and now I'll be after him."
Then Granderson turned to Ordonez, a locker away, and joked, "Give you some protection behind you." Ordonez's reply: "A lot of pressure."
Perhaps so, but Granderson's .308 average on the road and 12 homers made him a logical choice to supplant Cabrera, even for a day.
"I'm just getting [Cabrera] away from it for a day or so," explained Leyland. "This will turn into a two-day sabbatical. That's what it's all about. That's what a team is for."
And it's not as if Cabrera is taking an early flight back to Detroit, Leyland pointed out.
"I'm not going to have [Cabrera] too far from the bat rack," the manager said.
Polanco certainly appreciates the break, especially after starting the series 1-for-13.
"You get a day to rest and it's giving your mind and body a day to rest. Two days is even better," Polanco said. "It can do a lot of good."
And while some players cringe when they arrive in the clubhouse and find the lineup posted without their name on it, Polanco takes a veteran's approach to the brief respite.
"Sometimes," Polanco smiled, "less is more. It's a long season."
Pete Kerzel is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.