MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twin Cities are always going to hold a special place in Torii Hunter's heart. The Motor City is starting to form a place there.
When Hunter stepped to the plate with the tying run on third base during Saturday's ninth-inning comeback over the White Sox, with a sellout crowd at Comerica Park chanting his name, he admits that it got to him.
He knew that Detroit had a contending team and a good fan base, but he admits that the way Tigers fans and teammates have received him has touched him.
"This is probably one of my favorite years," Hunter said after Sunday's home finale. "I think I haven't had this much fun in 10 years, in this clubhouse. I've always played well at Comerica Park, but just the love you feel playing here, it's unbelievable. I never knew that, and I got a whiff of it this year."
Hunter is under contract with Detroit for next season, during which he'll celebrate his 39th birthday. His 2013 campaign has been a series of hot stretches and slumps, but his home splits are hard to pick apart. He hit .333 at Comerica Park this year with 20 doubles, three triples, eight home runs, 46 RBIs and an .861 OPS.
No American League hitter has more base hits in his home park this year. Only Hunter's teammate, Miguel Cabrera, posted a better average at home among qualifying AL hitters.
Just three other Tigers have posted 100 hits at Comerica Park in a season since it opened in 2000. Cabrera did it in 2009 and 2011; Magglio Ordonez and Placido Polanco had 110 and 105 hits there, respectively, in 2007.
Fielder plays in 500th consecutive game
MINNEAPOLIS -- The reaction from Prince Fielder when asked about playing in his 500th consecutive game said plenty about his approach.
He didn't realize he had reached a milestone.
"Oh, I didn't even know," Fielder said. "Yeah, that's good. That's pretty cool. It's another day. Kinda tired, but when the game starts, I'll be all right."
He's just played. He always plays.
"I'm stubborn," he said. "I've always said: Unless it's bleeding or broken, I'm playing, just because I'm hard-headed."
Fielder has started every regular-season and playoff game the Tigers have played since he signed with Detroit in January 2012. He hasn't missed a game his team has played since Sept. 13, 2010, when a flu bug left him unable to take the field for the Brewers for a series opener in Houston. Before that game he had played in 327 consecutive games.
But he's been there for every one since -- 483 at first base, 17 at designated hitter. Fourteen of those starts at DH have come with Detroit, where the closest manager Jim Leyland can come to getting him to accept a day off is to get him off the field for a game here and there, swapping places with Victor Martinez.
"When you've got stars and they go out there every day, that's a big plus," Leyland said. "And Prince is a very proud guy. … He likes to play. He likes to be in the lineup. He knows that he gets paid to be in the lineup, and that's what he does. And I give him the utmost credit."
Fielder's streak became the longest when Matt Kemp missed a game in May 2012. Fielder was at 217 games then, and it wasn't even the longest stretch of his career.
"You want to be there all the time," Fielder said. "That's your job."
For Fielder, actually, it's the preparation that's the work, from Spring Training to batting practice to extra hitting to scouting reports. He's a creature of habit, but that doesn't necessarily make him a fan of it. He wouldn't be playing every day without it.
"Once the game starts, then it's fun," he said. "All the stuff before, that's what makes it a job, I guess. That's the only Groundhog Day part of it. Spring Training's probably the toughest part of the season.
"Once the game starts, everything's easy after that."
And the longer the season goes, the easier he's making it look. His health has remained strong, and he's batting .380 with a 1.039 OPS for September, a pace that would give him his best month of the season if he keeps it up this week.
But it's not just a physical grind he's conquering. It's a mental grind.
"It's a mental grind when you work in Detroit," Leyland said. "You've got to get up at 5:30 and go to the automotive plant and get on the assembly line, and you've got the bad weather and the traffic. That's a mental grind, too. We're no different than anybody else. People work hard in this country, and there's a lot of days when people would like to stay home."
Miggy returns to Tigers' lineup
MINNEAPOLIS -- The lineup card said Miguel Cabrera was ready to play again on Monday. There wasn't much elaboration from manager Jim Leyland.
"He's playing," Leyland said.
Realistically, Leyland could have just pointed to his quote from Sunday, when Cabrera was out of the lineup.
"If he's OK to play, I'm going to play him," Leyland said. "Not to say that I won't rest him."
In other words, with the Tigers needing some sort of combination of two wins/two Indians losses to clinch a division title, Cabrera was going to be in the lineup if he felt up to it.
Cabrera said after Sunday's game that he felt improved from Saturday, when he left with soreness in his groin after a ninth-inning walk. He estimated that he's at 80 percent to 90 percent strength.
But he looked as though he was moving at much less than that on his first-inning groundout to third. It was a routine ground ball he had no hope of beating even at full health, but he was noticeably slower than he was even last week.
Rondon, Coke both cleared to pitch
MINNEAPOLIS -- Bruce Rondon gave a thumbs up when asked on Monday how his arm feels, and that seemed to be a good sign for his potential return to work in the bullpen on Tuesday.
Fellow reliever Phil Coke, sidelined since Thursday with soreness in his forearm flexor, sounded optimistic about his progress after throwing off the bullpen mound at Target Field on Monday afternoon.
"It felt a little tight, but it went well," Coke said.
Both hurlers were cleared to pitch following Monday's 4-3 loss to the Twins, and both will be available out of the bullpen on Tuesday.
The return of Rondon gives the Tigers a big piece in their bullpen. The hard-throwing rookie had become a valuable presence in the seventh and eighth innings before coming down with tenderness in his right elbow following a Sept. 2 outing in Boston in which he hit 102 mph.
• Shortstop Jose Iglesias fielded ground balls in batting practice on Monday for the first time since sustaining a bruise on his left hand being hit by a pitch last Thursday, and he seemed to do so comfortably. He has not taken batting practice yet, and won't until he can hold a bat without discomfort.