Sore shoulder sends Sheffield out of left
Slugger to return to DH; Leyland to platoon starters in the field
KANSAS CITY -- Gary Sheffield's days as a regular outfielder appear to be over for the Tigers.
After just over a week in left field, Sheffield was out of the lineup on Wednesday for a day off. When he returns on Thursday, however, he'll be back at designated hitter, which will be his primary spot again when the Tigers return home next week.
Manager Jim Leyland made the decision and talked with Sheffield about it prior to Wednesday's game. Leyland saw signs that Sheffield is still bothered by his right shoulder, which Sheffield confirmed. Leyland believes that playing the field and hitting isn't going to help the healing process.
"With the physical condition and trying to get the bat going, the longer I think about, it doesn't make sense with the shoulder to be playing and swinging," Leyland said.
Sheffield entered Wednesday batting 5-for-18 with two doubles, three RBIs, six walks and five strikeouts since the Tigers committed to putting him in the outfield at the start of last week's homestand. Three of those five hits, however, came last Wednesday against the Red Sox. He has gone 2-for-10 since, but both hits have been doubles.
Beyond the health consideration is the matter of how Sheffield's arm plays in the field. He hasn't had to try to throw home on a bang-bang play at the plate, but it was becoming apparent to Leyland that the shoulder wasn't allowing him to unleash throws at his old strength.
"By his own admission, all he can do is lob the ball," Leyland said.
Sheffield was diplomatic about the move back to DH, but that's understandable. It was his talk with Leyland, first-base coach Andy Van Slyke and others that prompted the Tigers to move him in the first place. He said he needed to feel like a full player again.
Asked how much the shoulder was affecting him, Sheffield said, "It's always going to bother me. It's just to what degree I'm hurting the team when I'm out there."
Sheffield's move to left put him in the spot that struggling Jacque Jones held before being designated for assignment last Monday. Jones is expected to be released on Thursday. The Tigers called up outfielder Matt Joyce from Triple-A Toledo to take Jones' place; he has spent two games at DH and four in the outfield.
Joyce now becomes a bigger part of Detroit's mix in left along with Marcus Thames and Ryan Raburn. Leyland said he'll play Sheffield in left this weekend at Arizona, where the Tigers won't have the DH.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.