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02/18/12 4:00 PM EST

Cabrera meeting challenge head-on

Slimmed-down slugger ready for move to third base

LAKELAND, Fla. -- The morning fog hadn't even lifted around Joker Marchant Stadium as Tigers players were filing in on Saturday morning. The resolve of their superstar batting champ was already becoming clear.

Miguel Cabrera had already unpacked, gone to the batting cage, taken some swings, and put his bats away. He went on the field with many of his teammates, played catch with offseason workout partner Alex Avila, and worked out on his own. His slimmed-down frame, the subject of so much speculation, was taking up less of his warmup gear, but his muscular physique was still evident.

He didn't just report to Spring Training early. He came with a purpose.

"I think he's on a mission," manager Jim Leyland said. "I think he's on a mission to show people he can play third base. I just don't want him to put too much pressure on himself, but his attitude is tremendous. It always is."

If Cabrera's on a mission, he isn't letting on. When asked if he wants to show he can play third base, he shook his head.

"No," he answered politely. "I want to win some games. I'll go over there and do my best and do my best to help the pitchers get some outs and try to get some wins. That's what I'm going to do.

"I don't want to try to show everybody I can play third base, because, why? What's the reason? There's no reason to hear all the negative things they say about me playing third base."

The last time Cabrera made the trip here from his South Florida home, he was the talk of baseball last spring, for many wrong reasons. An MVP-caliber season on the field and a clean season off of it put that headline in the past.

Now, he sounds very much like somebody who wants to be a part of the team, not a distraction or a headline. He was quiet enough that he slipped into camp without many people noticing until he was already off to and from the cage.

He clearly knows what has been said about his attempted shift from first base to third, a position he played for a few years in Florida and his first month in Detroit in 2008 following his trade from the Marlins. He isn't making it out to be a piece of cake, but he isn't painting it as a superhuman feat either.

Position players don't have their first full-squad workout until next Friday. Cabrera came to camp early, he said, to get to work on playing third, not to prove a point.

"You always work for one reason, to get better," he said. "So we have another reason in Spring Training to try to work hard and be ready to play third base and be ready for the season. Let's see what happens and try to get in the best shape we can.

"It's going to be hard. Nobody said it's going to be easy. It's going to be hard playing back over there. But when you're motivated and you have your team to support you and you've got the support of your manager and all your team, you feel like you're going to do it, you can do it and play your best baseball."

Even if his ability to make this move work is questioned, his willingness to give his best shot is becoming indisputable.

"You can see that he's worked his fanny off to get himself into shape so he can maybe get himself more quickness," Leyland said. "Who knows? I don't know how it's going to play out. You can see that the effort's there and the attitude's there. That's pretty good."

Cabrera looked notably slimmer compared to last year, but he couldn't put a number, nor did he get into his workout program or his diet. Leyland said Thursday he felt that 255 pounds would be a good weight for Cabrera, and a source close to Cabrera suggested that would be his weight.

It's a complicated matter for Cabrera, who has apparently heard the scrutiny on that weighty topic, too.

"It's the question they ask me every year," Cabrera said. "I think that's been an issue my whole career. It's the same thing this year. Everybody's talking the same thing about my weight, [saying,] 'He's overweight, he's this, he's this.' It's nothing new. It's been a complaint almost my whole career."

That said, Cabrera added that he thinks losing weight will be good for him in the long run. He sounded very much like someone transitioning to the second half of his career as he approaches age 30. The former wonder child who made an immediate impact at age 20 on a world champion Marlins team will turn 29 in April.

"I think that's a very positive thing to happen right now in my career," Cabrera said, "because it's going to help me a lot to lose more. It's going to help me a lot to get in my best shape. It's going to help me to play long in baseball. ...

"My goal is to be ready for the season. Whatever weight I [have], I have to be in the best shape every year to go out there and don't be hurt. I'm trying to be in my best shape and trying to be 100 percent the first day of the season."

More than anything, though, he wants to win games, not arguments.

"It's going to be a special year," he said. "Hopefully, we can stay together. Hopefully, we can stay healthy, play the most games together we can play."

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.