Healthy Sheff's swing coming around

Healthy Sheff's swing coming around

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- After a rough start to Spring Training, Gary Sheffield's swing is rounding into shape.

Since starting the spring with leg cramps and a related 0-for-14 slump, Sheffield is 4-for-13 with two doubles, a home run, two RBIs and two runs scored. That includes a line-drive double that he laced off of the left-field fence at Al Lang Field in Sunday's 7-2 loss to the Rays.

"I'm feeling better, now that I know that I don't have to worry about my legs cramping up," Sheffield said afterward. "When that's the thing that you worry about when you go up there, you're already defeated. Now I can go up there with confidence, where I can just wait on my pitch."

The bad habit where he would try to get out in front of a pitch, the habit he developed when he was dealing with his torn labrum, is long since gone. Now his quick, balanced swing is bolstered by his legs at full strength.

He realized that when he turned on a pitch and homered against the Braves on Thursday at Joker Marchant Stadium.

"You can probably ask most guys, especially guys that hit the ball out of the park," he said. "Once you square one up, that's where you want to be. The rest, you just put that in your back pocket and you start working on things as far as weaknesses are concerned -- spreading the ball all over the field, taking pitches and swinging at strikes."

Sheffield will have plenty of at-bats over the final two weeks of camp in which to work on those matters.

"I'm encouraged because he's getting some consistent at-bats," manager Jim Leyland said. "I haven't been able to get him consistent at-bats because of some slight nagging stuff. He's getting those now. He's coming around, which is a real good sign."

Sheffield is not scheduled to be on Monday's trip to face the Reds in Sarasota, Fla., but he'll be at home the next day when the Tigers host the Nationals in an ESPN telecast. After Wednesday's club off-day, the regular lineup will be playing consistently.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.