When a high-profile player makes a position change, there will be good days and bad days -- smiles and frowns, as it were. It didn't take long for Miguel Cabrera to realize as much.
During the Tigers' Opening Day victory against the visiting Red Sox last week, Cabrera was back at third base, which he occupied for the majority of his five years in Florida at the beginning of his career. When he was dealt to Detroit in 2007, Cabrera moved to first base, but the Tigers' acquisition of Prince Fielder this winter shifted Cabrera back to third.
Cabrera made two errors in 18 Cactus League ballgames this spring, then couldn't help but flash a smile when he tumbled head over heels to catch a routine pop-up at third in Detroit's opener. But the next play, he let a Dustin Pedroia grounder skip by him for his first error of the young season. There, a frown.
Cabrera admitted later that the miscue was related to a ball that bounced up and hit him in the face during Spring Training, resulting in a non-displaced fracture of the orbital floor below his eye.
"I was a little scared with my eyes," he said. "I came up and should've gone down."
Cabrera, of course, is not the only player in baseball on a learning curve. Each new year brings transitions for most every club, and it happens from the mound, too. A number of pitchers -- Jeff Samardzija (Cubs), Brad Lidge (Nationals), Neftali Feliz (Rangers), Daniel Bard (Red Sox), Francisco Cordero (Blue Jays) and Livan Hernandez (Braves) are among those getting accustomed to an unfamiliar role. Here's a brief look at their early returns during this transitional phase:
Samardzija was superb in his season debut, making his first start since September 2010. He struck out a career-best eight and scattered four hits over 8 2/3 innings against the Nationals.
"I've talked a big game about wanting to start, and made it public," he said. "I don't want to look like an idiot. I wanted to come out and do what I needed to do and be in the zone, and let the guys behind me work."
After racking up at least 27 saves in six of seven seasons from 2004-10 with the Astros and Phillies, Lidge knows he'll have to be flexible out of the Nationals' pen this year. He's thrown two spotless innings, but with closer Drew Storen on the disabled list, Lidge could get a chance to close again.
"I definitely still have that itch," Lidge said, "but at the same time, we've got a couple guys down there that could really close and be successful just about anywhere. I'll do what they need me to do early, and hopefully Drew will be back real soon."
The Rangers have been preparing to move the 2010 American League Rookie of the Year Award winner Feliz to the rotation, and the time has finally come. The promising young right-hander made his first career start Tuesday against the Mariners, holding them to four hits in seven innings for the victory.
Bard had appeared in 192 games for the Red Sox before making his first start with the club on Tuesday night against Toronto. He took the loss, surrendering five earned runs and eight hits in five frames.
Cordero has averaged more than 38 saves per season over the past five years with the Brewers and Reds, but he's now in a setup role with Toronto. Cordero has allowed one run and four hits in three innings of work this year.
Hernandez has made 474 career big league appearances as a pitcher, and just three have come out of the bullpen. One was his Major League debut in 1996, and the other two have come this season. Entering Tuesday, he had allowed two runs on seven hits in 3 2/3 innings.
Meanwhile, Joe Mauer, who won the 2009 AL MVP as a catcher, is getting more and more looks at first base since his debut there last year.
"Just comfort-wise going back to last year, I feel a lot more comfortable there than last year," Mauer said this spring. "It's good to get that first one, I guess. The more you play over there, more comfortable you'll be."
And in Miami, newly-minted third baseman Hanley Ramirez -- making the transition from shortstop after the Marlins signed shortstop Jose Reyes to the richest contract in club history this offseason -- has played errorless defense through five games, but the 28-year-old has still endured a slow start to the year.
In Sunday's 6-5 loss to the Reds, Ramirez had the opportunity to make two plays -- a Drew Stubbs single off his glove and a Scott Rolen infield single he was unable to pick cleanly -- in the ninth inning to preserve a win, but could not. He also began the season 0-for-10 at the plate, and manager Ozzie Guillen mused that the three-time All-Star may have been pressing early on.
"He's a piece of the puzzle," Guillen said of Ramirez. "We don't have to wait for him to carry this ballclub. He can't carry this ballclub by himself."
Whichever player you consider, you must also consider the small sample size. Whether it's been a spotless first week or one littered with miscues, there's still plenty of time. It is a work in progress, after all.
That's certainly how Tigers skipper Jim Leyland feels about his new third baseman.
"He's fine," Leyland said of Cabrera this weekend. "He's going to be there. He's going to be there all the time."