Tigers complete sweep vs. Orioles
Team wins fourth straight behind Sheffield, Monroe
DETROIT -- Gary Sheffield sees some of himself in Craig Monroe. That doesn't compare to what everybody sees in Sheffield when he meets up with Steve Trachsel.
As badly as Sheffield was slumping for the first four weeks of the season, he doesn't think he would've been able to hit Trachsel, which is quite a statement for all the numbers he has put up against him. The way Sheffield is starting to hit, it might not have mattered whether Trachsel was pitching, but it didn't hurt. Sheffield's 4-for-4 afternoon accounted for all of Detroit's offense until Monroe's solo homer in the sixth sent Detroit to its fourth straight win with a 3-2 victory over Baltimore on Wednesday at Comerica Park.
Sheffield hadn't had his average above .200 since the fourth game of the season, but he heads into Thursday's off-day batting .226 on the year. The way he's swinging the bat now, with his first four-hit game in three years, he looks a little more dangerous than that.
"I think he's feeling more comfortable," manager Jim Leyland said. "He's getting settled in. The weather's warming up. He looks really good right now."
To Sheffield, the struggles had little to do with the elements or the opponents. In Trachsel's case, he entered the day batting .373 (19-for-51) with four doubles, four home runs and eight RBIs off the well-traveled starter. Still, the biggest opponent Sheffield saw in the matter was himself.
"The way I was swinging earlier, if Steve Trachsel was pitching, if anybody was pitching, I wouldn't have done much," Sheffield said. "It's me. When I feel good and I'm hitting the way I'm supposed to be hitting, it really doesn't matter who's pitching. I really don't think about it. But when you're struggling, you're always looking for those guys that you hit well to try to get out of it. I had a few of those guys, and I wound up not getting hits, and I think that's what made me more frustrated than anything."
The more frustrated he became, the more he worked at it, until Leyland gave him a day off just over a week ago. The only mechanical problem he noticed was a stance that was too wide. The rest was approach.
"I studied tapes," Sheffield said. "I went into the batting cage and hit hundreds of balls. I tried everything, and I came to the conclusion that it's between my ears. Once I get out of the way of my own talent, it comes out."
He sees the same factor in Monroe, who has been suffering much of the same struggles so far this season. But while Monroe seems to hit whoever the Orioles put on the mound, Sheffield saved his big hits for Daniel Cabrera -- with whom he jawed during that bench-clearing incident Monday night -- and Trachsel.
Sheffield pounced on the first pitch he saw from Trachsel for a first-inning solo homer. Two more at-bats yielded fastballs for two more singles, the latter a two-out liner in the fifth, driving in Curtis Granderson to tie the game.
Trachsel's explanation for Sheffield was simple: "He's really, really good."
"He got hot after that bench-clearing thing," Trachsel said, "and I guess you're supposed to let the sleeping dogs lie. And it didn't happen."
An inning later, Trachsel fell behind on Monroe and tried to thrown him off of his timing with a 2-0 curveball against a notorious fastball hitter.
"[I] wasn't looking for it," Monroe said. "[I] was thinking, fastball out over the plate, try to stay through it, and then went through all the approach that I needed to take a good swing. I've been working on getting there in a good hitting position, which I haven't been doing. I got there, and I was able to stay through a curveball. [I] didn't hit it great, but when you put yourself in a good hitting position, if you're strong enough, you can still take it out of the park."
That's exactly the lesson Sheffield discussed with him earlier this season.
"He's a lot like me. We get in the way of our own talent," Sheffield said. "I don't think he's tapped into how good he really is. Once he realizes that and just lets the game come to him, he'll not think as much, just trust your ability and get the bat out front."
Monroe still isn't quite out of his slump, but facing the Orioles doesn't hurt. All three of his home runs this season have come against the O's, and they accounted for his only two hits of this series. Wednesday's homer was enough to push his average for the season from .195 to .200.
By watching Sheffield work through his struggles, Monroe said, he learned that experience level matters little when it comes to a slump.
"The big thing he told me," Monroe said, "is that you still have to allow the game to come to you. You can't try to get 10 hits in one at-bat. I feel like now I should be able to make those adjustments. But at the same time, he gives me that confidence to say, 'Hey, I'm going through it. We'll get through it together.'"
Sheffield seems to be through it now. His eighth-inning single off Chris Ray finished off his first four-hit game since Sept. 7, 2004, when he was with the Yankees. He has four multi-hit games since that day off a week and a half ago, and in that span he's 14-for-34, with seven walks and 13 runs scored.
His hits Wednesday helped make a winner out of starter Nate Robertson (3-1), who hadn't won since tossing 7 1/3 scoreless innings against the O's on April 10 at Camden Yards. He appeared to be headed for a struggle when he gave up three straight hits to lead off the third inning, including a Jay Payton RBI double, then surrendered back-to-back walks to plate another run. After a visit from pitching coach Chuck Hernandez, Robertson escaped with an inning-ending double-play grounder from Kevin Millar.
Robertson retired 10 of the final 13 batters he faced before Jason Grilli ended a seventh-inning threat. Fernando Rodney retired the side in the eighth ahead of Todd Jones' 10th save of the season.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.