Cabrera on comeback trail to bigs
Infielder playing well, working hard with Triple-A Buffalo
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The Bisons' team buses didn't roll back into town until the early hours of July 2 after back-to-back losses the preceding nights in Scranton Wilkes-Barre.So, as a token of good nature, manager Torey Lovullo made batting practice optional before that night's home game. Many of the Bisons took Lovullo up on the offer, arriving to Dunn Tire Park as late as two hours before the 7:05 p.m. ET first pitch. Asdrubal Cabrera didn't bite. Cabrera arrived shortly before 4 p.m., changed into his uniform and spent some time in the batting cages before heading out for batting practice with a handful of his teammates. It's the way Cabrera has handled every day since he was demoted to Triple-A nearly a month ago. "He came down with a ton of energy, a ton of motivation, a ton of excitement and maybe a little bit of relief that he could come down and figure some things out in a non-pressure situation," Lovullo said. "The attitude was right, the attitude was positive and it's paid off." It certainly has. In 29 games, Cabrera, hitting primarily in the leadoff spot, has compiled a .333 batting average, with 14 multihit games. Even though he has cooled off considerably in the past two weeks -- after 13 games he was batting .456 -- Cabrera has fixed the mechanical problems in his swing that contributed to the slump that brought him to Buffalo. It's still not entirely fixed, however. "He seems to have it cured, obviously with the success he's having, but it's not perfect and he's still working his way out of it," Lovullo said. "But he's working hard in trying to get back to the Major Leagues and doing everything that is asked for him to make the adjustments." Hitting coach Dave Myers said that he and Indians coach Derek Shelton have noticed "subtle differences" when comparing the swing that made Cabrera a .184 hitter in 52 games with the Indians to the swing that's made him an instant success story in Buffalo. He's doing a better job of keeping his back elbow down and is in a much better position to determine whether a pitch is a ball or a strike, the most important thing for the 22-year-old switch-hitter, Myers said. But that's not the whole story behind Cabrera's improvement. "It's just been an opportunity to start fresh for a little while and not have to look at his batting average on the scoreboard," Myers said. "That's been refreshing to him." Cabrera's honeymoon in Buffalo hasn't been entirely positive, however. On the same day Cabrera came to the ballpark earlier than most, he was forced to exit the earliest. And he didn't leave quietly. After he was called out on strikes in the ninth inning of the Bisons' 5-4 extra-innings loss to Rochester, Cabrera briefly raised his bat over his head in the direction of home-plate umpire Jason Klein, prompting his ejection. Before exiting the field, Cabrera tossed his helmet and threw his batting gloves behind his back, hitting first-base umpire Justin Vogel. Cabrera was not available for comment after the incident and has not spoken to the media since joining the Bisons. He was fined an undisclosed sum by the International League, but was not suspended. Indians manager Eric Wedge, general manager Mark Shapiro and Lovullo have said the incident and subsequent media reports have been overblown and have not changed their perspective on the surging infielder. "I would fully expect him to be back here this season," Shapiro said last week. But when Cabrera does make his inevitable return, where will he play? A defensive standout, Cabrera came into the 2008 season as the Tribe's starting second baseman and has played there the majority of the time since he was called up in August 2007. Since he's been at Buffalo, however, Cabrera has played nearly every game at shortstop. Cabrera did occasionally spell Jhonny Peralta at short in his time with the Indians, showing better range and a stronger ability to make tough plays. So is it a sign of things to come? Not quite. Lovullo said he has been instructed to play Cabrera at shortstop as a way to strengthen Cabrera's arm in case he is called up to spell Peralta. Anything beyond that is beyond Lovullo's knowledge. "There's nothing there," Lovullo said of the speculation that Cabrera is being groomed to eventually be the Tribe's everyday shortstop. "Second base is locked down for him. He knows exactly what he's doing there. He doesn't need any extra work there." The extra preparation could also come in handy if third baseman Casey Blake is traded and the Tribe infield is forced to undergo yet another shakeup. But before he is called up, Cabrera has to show Tribe management improvement in areas other than his hitting and fielding versatility. Shapiro and Wedge have made it no secret that Cabrera needs to improve his overall body shape and conditioning habits before he returns to the big leagues. Lovullo said that Cabrera has put the same amount of work into his fitness as he has into improving his swing and strengthening his arm. "Everything he's doing is with a purpose," Lovullo said. "He's in the weight room after ballgames working hard. Pregame, he's doing everything he's supposed to do. Conditioning has not been an issue for me here. "He's working his butt off."
Andrew Gribble is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.