He could play right now if needed, and he might play Sunday against the Pirates. But with Opening Day still more than three weeks away, neither he nor the Tigers want to risk turning little more than cramping leg muscles into muscle pulls. So for now, Sheffield is working out in the cage and on the field, but he's day-to-day for games.
"What I'm trying to do is get rid of this problem," he said Saturday morning at Joker Marchant Stadium. "When you try to grind it out in Spring Training, what's the use? Why push it and make something worse?"
In a normal offseason, he figures, it wouldn't have been an issue. He would've been running all winter in the warmer climates of his Tampa home, working his legs into shape.
Instead, with October shoulder surgery, he spent a part of his winter up north in New York City. For the Florida native, this was his first winter in which he trained in colder climates.
"And the last," he said.
The discomfort is in both legs, he said, but it's worse in his right leg than his left. It feels like a hamstring injury, except that it starts just above the back of his knee and works its way all the way up the leg. It's something he has dealt with to some degree since the start of games.
Part of it, he said, is a matter of nutrition, getting enough water and electrolytes to feed the muscles. But he also aggravated it doing sprints one day.
He knows that with his 40th birthday coming up in November, people will say that his body is showing his age as well as wear and tear. That, he admits, helps keep him motivated.
"Once you get to this age," he said, "that comes with the territory."
The splits are striking. He went into the All-Star break with a .303 average, 21 home runs, 58 RBIs and 12 stolen bases. Add in 52 walks in 371 plate appearances, and his .970 OPS ranked fourth among American League hitters with at least 300 plate appearances. Only Alex Rodriguez, Magglio Ordonez and David Ortiz ranked higher.
His OPS was up to .973 on July 21, when he injured his shoulder on a play in the outfield. From that point on, he batted .172 with two home runs and 34 strikeouts in 151 at-bats. Unable to get around on pitches with his shoulder ailing, an injury that turned out to be a tear in his labrum, Sheffield dove out after pitches. When he missed, he missed. When he made contact, it wasn't with the same authority as before he was hurt.
"I feed off when people say you can't do something, and then you do it," Sheffield said. "That's the only thing that bothered me. I didn't get a chance to do it [over a full season]."
He obviously feels like he can. The key to setting himself up for that in Spring Training, he said, will be to center the ball, not try to slug for power. With an 0-for-11 line so far this spring, he joins first-base prospect Jeff Larish as the only Tigers in camp with at least 10 at-bats and still hitless.
"I'm just trying to hit the ball to center field right now," he said. "To be the hitter I want to be, I want to stay to center field."
He's trying to set himself up to be ready for the season, with his legs and with his bat.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.