Sizemore out to show he's 'the guy' at second

Sizemore out to show he's 'the guy' at second

Sizemore out to show he's 'the guy' at second
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Scott Sizemore came to Spring Training last year as a rookie with a starting job at second base, but he didn't have his health coming off ankle surgery. He didn't hold onto his job past mid-May.

A year later, Sizemore reported to camp with his health, finally, but no job. He wants his job back, but that has more to do with Carlos Guillen's health than his own.

Confused yet? That might explain why Sizemore is trying to keep his outlook simple.

"It's just one of those things where I'm working as hard as I can to try to get ready and be the best player that I can going into the season," Sizemore said. "That's just the way I'm handling it."

For now, all he can control is how he plays. It's early in camp, with full-squad workouts just beginning Saturday, but Sizemore is already showing signs of holding up his end. The ankle problems that limited him last year appear to be behind him.

That's already an upshot over what manager Jim Leyland saw last spring.

"I would say Scott Sizemore is 100 percent, watching him move around," Leyland said Saturday. "I felt that way when I saw his face at the [winter] caravan."

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The look at the caravan was a little more open, a little more healthy. He had color in his face, according to Leyland, and he was moving around better. To Leyland, he was "totally different" from last year.

In fairness, Detroit's plans to go with Sizemore at second base last year were set well before Spring Training. They were also set well before Sizemore took a rough slide trying to complete a double-play throw from second base in the Arizona Fall League. The resulting fractured ankle was surgically repaired with enough time to get ready for camp, but he was still limited.

Some signs were subtle, others more obvious.

"I don't really put it as a percentage thing," Leyland said. "I just know that last year when I watched him, I could see it wasn't right. He ran to first and ran hard, but at some point you could tell. He'd start to limp a little bit."

Sizemore would say that he felt fine in general, but that it would bother him at certain points -- cold weather, long actions.

"He was a tough kid, trying to get through, and he wanted to play," Leyland said. "He probably wasn't really quite ready."

He survived the opening month, batting .254 in April, but he didn't hit for his usual power. Once May rolled around, he fell into a 4-for-34 slump that included an 0-for-14 streak before he was optioned to Triple-A Toledo.

Detroit didn't see him again until late July, and only as a depth callup once Brandon Inge fractured a bone in his left hand and went on the disabled list. Once the Tigers traded for Jhonny Peralta, Sizemore was a Mud Hen again.

By the time he made it back, he was a September callup, and he didn't play for a week after he arrived. But he was in better shape than he was in on Opening Day. A 10-game hitting streak in late August brought him to the brink of a .300 season at Toledo before he finished at .298. More impressive, Sizemore had 23 doubles and nine home runs in just 76 games.

The power and movement was back. And with a full offseason to focus on workouts instead of rehab, he was set to get stronger.

"It feels good so far," Sizemore said last week. "Better than last year, that's for sure."

What Sizemore can do with that is largely out of his control. Detroit's Plan B at second base last year -- once it sent Sizemore out -- was Guillen, once he came back from the disabled list. It was an improvised move to enable the Tigers to fit Guillen and Brennan Boesch in the lineup once Boesch was on a hitting tear, but it stuck well after Boesch's season turned for the worse. After Guillen went down to injury, second base went to Will Rhymes, who hit his way into the club's attention.

Now, the injury question at second base is on Guillen, whose recovery timetable from microfracture knee surgery has him on track to play games in mid-March. Any setback from that would make it far more difficult to be ready for Opening Day. If Guillen is healthy, he'll have some of the same uncertainty Sizemore faced a year ago.

Meanwhile, Sizemore has a chance to show that the potential of old hasn't been lost at age 26. But his only realistic chance to reclaim his job for Opening Day is if Guillen isn't ready. If that's the case, second base becomes a scrum between Sizemore, Rhymes and Danny Worth, all of whom were Mud Hens for some stretches last year.

"It's going to be interesting," Sizemore said. "I was thinking about that the other day, because [prospect] Brandon Douglas is in camp, too, and he's pretty much strictly a second baseman as well. There's going to be a lot of bodies over there working in, and [Ramon Santiago] plays second, too.

"It's going to be hectic. You just hope to get some ABs. You just want your opportunity to try to show the coaches and front-office guys that you're the guy."

If he can, it'll be quite a comeback. If he can't, he'll wait his turn.

"If I don't make the big league team," he said, "then I'll just go to Triple-A and do what I did last year. Work on my game and just wait for the time when they need me."

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.