Sheffield getting another shot in outfield
Slugger's request to play field granted as one of Tigers' moves
DETROIT -- Gary Sheffield would get bored enough at designated hitter that he'd be looking at the fans and the popcorn vendors in the stands. By getting to focus on the outfield again, he's hoping that his season looks a lot better by the time it's over.
The last time Gary Sheffield played in the field, he ended up with a torn labrum that bothered him the rest of the season. Now, he's going back there to try to turn around his season. Aside from Jacque Jones' departure, it's the most "drastic" of the many changes Tigers manager Jim Leyland made to his lineup for Monday's game against the Red Sox.
After Sheffield talked with Tigers coaches about wanting to play the outfield again, the Tigers are giving him his shot. The hope is that by getting him into the game defensively, he'll get a jolt going offensively. With Sheffield batting just .185 so far this season and limited to two home runs, the Tigers are willing to try it.
"Your job as a manager is to get the best out of your players," Leyland said. "Is this going to turn him around and get him to start hitting? I don't know. I'm not that smart. But it's something we're going to try and see if it pays any dividends."
Sheffield was in Monday's starting lineup in left field, essentially replacing Jones. He moved from the third spot in the order to sixth, trading spots with Carlos Guillen. Edgar Renteria and Ivan Rodriguez each moved down a spot Monday for rookie right fielder Matt Joyce in his big-league debut.
Sheffield's difficulty with the DH role is nothing new. Soon after joining the Tigers, he talked about the challenge of getting used to sitting for those half-innings when the Tigers are in the field and only getting up to bat. He talked about how he would have to pass the idle time on an exercise bike in the workout room or swinging a bat on the dugout steps. He never grew to like it, never even accepted himself as a full-time DH, but he dealt with it.
Even with his shoulder problems, dealing with DH this year wasn't any easier.
"Once I started DHing and saw what it was all about, it's not me," Sheffield said. "It doesn't fit my personality. Not to say that this is the reason I'm struggling; it has nothing to do it. But the fact is that it just doesn't fit my personality. I'm a guy who likes to be in the middle of the action. When you're hitting and you've got to sit down and hit and sit down, that's just not me."
And if he wasn't in the middle of the action, he would have a hard time focusing on it between at-bats.
"I think that's a position for guys who can't do anything else," Sheffield said, "and you have to accept it in your mind first to do it. DHing, I never thought was so mental. Because now, I'm noticing faces in the stands. I'm noticing the popcorn vendors. I'm noticing things I never noticed before. And then you have to go up there with total concentration, and I just can't concentrate the way I want to concentrate."
Sheffield brought it up with outfield coach Andy Van Slyke and then with Leyland, but he insists he didn't do it as a demand.
"All I did to Van Slyke was I just told him how I felt about DHing," he said. "My thing wasn't, 'I've got to play left field or this is it for me,' or whatever. I just felt like I'm a better baseball player than I am a DH. When you have more tools to give, and you don't give but one, you don't feel like a complete baseball player. I just feel like I've got more to give."
It remains to be seen how much he can give in the outfield. Neither Leyland nor Sheffield expressed any idea how many days a week he can play in the outfield, in part because of the shoulder and how it will hold up. If his shoulder is healthy, he thinks he has a better arm than most left fielders in baseball. If it isn't healthy, then he has bigger concerns than the outfield.
"If it does [break down], then it's time to go home," Sheffield said. "It doesn't matter to me. If it breaks down, then it means it's time to go. That's just the way it goes. I'm 39 years old, so I see no problem with it."
The Tigers have other outfielders to worry about as well. Magglio Ordonez served as the DH on Monday to make room for Joyce's Major League debut in right, but that won't be a full-time move for him. It remains to be seen how Marcus Thames and Ryan Raburn work into the outfield mix.
The other factor, of course, is how much of a difference it actually makes with Sheffield's hitting. As Sheffield said of his move down the lineup, "I can't be pulling off the ball like I've been doing, no matter where I hit."
Essentially, the lineup changes are a work in progress, and Leyland himself has no idea how the new mix is going to work. But he had to try something.
"At some point, you change player personnel, like we have," Leyland said. "At some point, if guys don't step it up, you change more player personnel. And at some point, the GM decides maybe it's the manager."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.