KISSIMMEE, Fla. — The first game of spring training can provide some unusual scenarios.
Such as Detroit slugger Miguel Cabrera facing Atlanta closer Craig Kimbrel – in the third inning.
Coming off baseball’s first Triple Crown season since 1967, Cabrera grounded out against Kimbrel before finishing his day with a drive to the warning track in center field, not a factor as the Tigers beat the Braves 2-1 Friday in the opening exhibition game of the year between big league teams.
Cabrera, who led the AL with 44 homers, 139 RBI and a .330 average, got a chance to pose with Mickey and Minnie Mouse before batting practice, a nod to the game being played at the Braves’ Disney World complex. Then, to chants of “MVP! MVP!” from the stands, he grounded out in the first against Tim Hudson.
In the third, Kimbrel took over for Hudson and promptly walked the first two hitters.
The closer fanned Quinton Berry and got Omar Infante on a flyout before Cabrera stepped in again.
Kimbrel, coming off a season with 42 saves, 1.01 ERA and 116 strikeouts in 62⅔ innings, doled out a steady stream of fastballs in the mid-90s. One of them went all the way to the backstop, allowing the runners to move up, but Cabrera grounded a 3-2 pitch to shortstop Andrelton Simmons that ended the threat.
“It’s a little different than rolling out there in the ninth inning,” Kimbrel said. “But I was just getting in my work.”
Both Cabrera (Venezuela) and Kimbrel (United States) will soon be leaving camp to play in the World Baseball Classic. They could wind up facing each other with a lot more on the line.
“I might see him here in a few weeks,” Kimbrel said.
“I’m happy to get through the inning.”
Justin and B.J. Upton made their Atlanta spring training debuts. The brothers both went 0 for 2, then scooted out of the clubhouse before the media was allowed in.
The Uptons are part of a new era for the Braves, who must replace retired third baseman Chipper Jones, a stalwart for nearly two decades in the middle of the order.
B.J. was signed as a free agent to a $75.25 million, five-year contract, while Justin was acquired in a blockbuster deal with Arizona.
“We do have a lot of new faces,” said right fielder Jason Heyward, who started alongside the Uptons in one of baseball’s most touted outfield trios.
“We just want to get a feel of things, talking and communicating.”
Both starters – Hudson and Detroit’s Rick Porcello – threw two scoreless innings.
“I didn’t blow anything out and I didn’t limp off the mound,” Hudson quipped. “That’s always a good day.”
NOTES: The Braves used the lineup that may be the one they go with on opening day, assuming catcher Brian McCann has not recovered from offseason shoulder surgery: Simmons, Heyward, Justin Upton, Freddie Freeman, B.J. Upton, Dan Uggla, Juan Francisco and Gerald Laird. ... Leyland chatted before the game with retired Braves manager Bobby Cox. Presumably, they didn’t discuss the 1992 NL championship series, when Cox’s Braves defeated Leyland’s Pittsburgh Pirates on a two-out, two-run single in the bottom of the ninth of Game 7. ... Former Braves catcher Brayan Pena started for the Tigers. No. 1 catcher Alex Avila was saved for the Tigers’ home opener at Lakeland against Toronto on Saturday.
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