Iron Sheff

Tim Brown
Yahoo! Sports

ANAHEIM, Calif. – Really, you hate to release a book titled "Inside Power" and three weeks later have one home run and a .119 batting average.

But, you're also Gary Sheffield, and if it's not enough to look back on a .297 career average and 456 home runs and almost 2,400 hits, then maybe it's enough to look around at Albert Pujols at .229, Ryan Howard at .220, Carlos Delgado at .211, Manny Ramirez at .226 and Paul Konerko at .175.

"I'm probably the worst out of all of them," he said Monday afternoon, the day after he'd been held out of all 12 innings of a Detroit Tigers win over the Chicago White Sox.

And he smiled.

He's 38 years old. These things happen, or so he'd heard. Granted, more often to other people, the guys with the loopy swings and the slider bat speeds and the unreliable composure. He'd swapped cities five times before, and knew the inherent desire to play well and amaze the locals and justify the season-after enthusiasm.

It's just, well, sometimes .119 plays out, right in the middle of the batting order, when a couple jumpy at-bats become 10 of them, and then there aren't three months of good at-bats to disguise them.

So, he took 3½ hours off on Sunday, accepted manager Jim Leyland's gesture as it was intended, and returned dutifully to his place between Placido Polanco and Magglio Ordonez for Monday night's game against the Los Angeles Angels. He hit the ball hard in three of his five plate appearances, including a line-drive single that left Angels starter Jered Weaver's hand at 88 mph and passed Weaver at 108, scoring a run.

And that was fine. He simply had figured on more by now. He has six RBI. He's waiting on his first hit against a left-handed pitcher. The man kills left-handed pitching.

"It seems to me I'm making it more difficult than it really is," he said.

Sheffield is a full-time designated hitter after 19 years of needing a glove and having something to do between at-bats. He admitted to a certain amount of restlessness while everybody else plays defense, thus far not cured by wandering the dugout and watching baseball games.

"You do want to participate," he said. "You do want to contribute."

Alone every half inning, Sheffield has company in his struggle. The Tigers have scraped together enough runs to win 11 times – including 9-5 over the Angels on Monday – despite a .240 team batting average, that reflecting three weeks of mostly lethargy from the likes of Ordonez, Sean Casey, Craig Monroe and Brandon Inge. Polanco has come out at .377, but all that meant is more at-bats for Sheffield with men on base, situations in which he has batted .167 entering Monday's game.

"People have got to get off the Sheffield thing," Leyland said. "We've got a lot of people who aren't hitting. … We've got to stop zeroing in on Sheffield. Casey hasn't hit yet. Inge. We're putting too much on the Sheffield situation and not enough on the entire offense's situation. We've had a lot of games if anybody had hit we would have won. We just haven't had our offense going yet."

Thing is, Sheffield doesn't mind that he's taking the hit. He was – and is – the perfect addition to the athletic, pitching-heavy Tigers. He was – and is – the right-handed power who would – and will – redirect opposing matchup tactics, along with their fastballs. In the meantime, if a little April anxiety is the worst to be had in Detroit, well, he'd wear that along with the Olde English D and the eye black.

"That's what I do bring to the table," Sheffield said, warming to the suggestion. "I take stuff off the other players. This is something that won't get to me as much as it will another player. I know what my numbers are. I know what I'm capable of. And I'm always reminding myself of that."

About then, Ivan Rodriguez wandered over to the end locker, gauged the conversation and tried to help.

"Don't worry about it," he said. "The man's gonna hit."

Sheffield nodded. His bat speed is fine, Leyland and Angels manager Mike Scioscia agreed. His eye is fine, something a team-high 14 walks confirm.

The results, so far, aren't.

"It doesn't matter if Gary's hitting .110 or .410, this guy is a challenge to pitch to," Scioscia said.

But, he said, if a slump does present itself, "You hope that continues, because this guy's going to hit somebody."

Sheffield himself is pretty sure of that.

"We don't know why we do a lot of things," he said, reaching for something. "I just try to deal with it best I can."

By late night, he had two hits, both singles. His batting average was .143. Next stop: Konerko.

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