Posted on September 24, 2017, by Bryan Zarpentine
The Detroti Tigers may have found an explanation for the uncharacteristically sluggish season by first baseman Miguel Cabrera. An MRI performed Sunday revealed that Cabrera has two herniated discs in his back. The two-time MVP has endured the worst statistical season of his career. He’s complained of back pain and other nagging injuries throughout the season. With two herniated discs, there may be a reason for his disappointing season outside of the natural decline that comes with age.
Cabrera was expected to undergo an MRI on his back at the end of the season. But after he was forced out of Saturday’s game, the Tigers decided to investigate Cabrera’s recurring back issues sooner. Tigers manager Brad Ausmus, who also dealt with back issues during much of his 18-year big league career, says the herniated discs in Cabrera’s back have “probably been slowly developing for years.”
“What happens is your discs tend to lose water as you get older and they dry out and over time, the vertebrae, gravity starts to push them down and the discs, they get pushed out from the vertebrae and as they get pushed out they can start touching nerves,” Ausmus explained. “When they touch the nerves, that’s when they start irritation and spasming muscles.”
Such an injury usually requires several weeks of rest. However, a course of treatment has not been decided. The Tigers have not ruled out Cabrera playing over the final week of the regular season, although he’s unlikely to be anything other than a DH.
On the season, Cabrera has hit .249 with an OPS of .728, both career-lows. Cabrera’s 16 home runs and 22 doubles are the fewest he’s had since his rookie season in 2003 when he only played in 87 games. However, Ausmus is uncertain that his back issues are the primary cause of Cabrera’s suboptimal season.
“(Cabrera)’s got a track record of playing though pain so how much it affects him is tough to tell,”Ausmus said. “He would play through pain that a majority of major players would not play through and he says he wants to play every day, so he would often downplay the severity.”
Surgery for Cabrera is unlikely at this point. Instead, anti-inflammatory injections are likely to help him manage the pain. Ausmus says that spending less time at first base and more time as a DH next season should help. Of course, Ausmus was informed on Friday that he won’t be returning to manage the Tigers in 2018, so what position Cabrera plays next season isn’t up to him. Cabrera will also alter his offseason workout routine to help him better manage the back pain.
“There are exercises specifically designed to work the muscles along the vertebrae that help stabilize the vertebrae so that they don’t put as much pressure on the disks,” Ausmus explained.
With a full offseason to rest, Cabrera should be fine by the start of spring training. However, considering his age and contract, a couple of herniated discs is something the team needs to pay attention to moving forward. Cabrera is still owed $184 million through the 2023 season, with vesting options for the next two years. We may need to wait until next year to see if 2017 was a blip on the radar for Cabrera or if age and injuries will continue to take their toll on his productivity.