Gary Sheffield is no stranger to slow starts. Remember last year? On April 22, 2007, he was batting a puny .119 with one home run and five RBI. By late July, before he fell on his right shoulder chasing a fly ball in the outfield, he was batting .298 with 23 HRs and 67 RBIs
In other words, dont be too quick to write Gary Sheffield off _ even at age 39, even after a dozen surgeries, including three on each shoulder, during his 20-year big league career.
Ive been proving people wrong for 20 years, Sheffield said.
Sheffields best years are behind him. There is no denying that.
But anyone who remembers how he hit last year during the months of May (10 HRs, 22 RBI), June (6 HRs, 22 RBI), and July (5 HRs, 15 RBIs) knows what a difference Sheffield can make in the Tigers lineup when hes hitting.
Like Curtis Granderson, Sheffield makes every batter in the order better.
Gary Sheffield will be the first guy to come in this office and tell me if he doesnt think he can help this team, Jim Leyland said the other day. If he cant be the Gary Sheffield he wants to be, hell tell me.
Do I think hell hit like the Gary Sheffield of old? No, I dont. But I think hell do enough to be a productive hitter in our lineup. I think hell hit.
We dont know yet if were seeing the real Gary Sheffield or not, continued Leyland, who admitted he himself sometimes wonders what the future holds for his right handed slugger with the ferocious swing. We dont know if hes slowed down enough to where hes not going to be effective. But were going to find out.
Sheffields wicked swing is his livelihood. But how much does he have left?
I still think hes one of the most feared and respected hitters in the game, Leyland said. Well see. But I dont think this short period of time is enough to see.
The one thing Im encouraged about is, its not like pitchers are throwing the ball by him, Leyland said. Its not like his bat is slow. Hes still pulling the ball hard. The ball still jumps off his bat. There dont seem to be any restrictions in his shoulder when he swings. He just doesnt have his timing right yet. Hes pulling the ball foul. I think hes coming off the ball a little bit.
There was a time when Gary Sheffield and Barry Bonds were the two most feared hitters in baseball, bar none, Leyland continued. Obviously thats not true now. Bonds isnt playing and Sheffield is struggling.
But I think some pitchers in this league still pitch Sheffield as tough as anybody else on this team. Of course, if he continues to struggle that wont continue to happen.
We shall see.