CLEVELAND -- Grady Sizemore still feels something in his knee. Describing the sensation is not an easy task for the Indians center fielder. It isn't pain. And he doesn't go as far as to saying it is discomfort.
"It's just part of it," Sizemore says.
Call it a reminder.
A reminder that -- nearly 11 months ago -- Sizemore was having tiny holes drilled into his knee in an effort to save it. A reminder that -- for multiple hours a day in the first two months following surgery -- Sizemore's left leg was inside a continuous passive motion machine, a little torture chamber that bent his knee for him.
The feeling in Sizemore's knee is a reminder of how far he has come.
After he underwent a microfracture procedure last June, no one -- not the Indians, not the surgeon, certainly not Sizemore -- knew for sure how long it would take for the center fielder to return to the field. When Sizemore would eventually return, no one knew for sure if he would resemble the gazelle-like player he was in the past.
Everyone is now starting to wonder why there was ever any doubt.
Sizemore has played in seven games since rejoining the Indians as their leadoff man and center fielder on April 17. Over that short period of time, he has displayed power and patience at the plate, plus speed and prowess in the outfield and on the basepaths.
"We're very excited to see Grady come in and contribute right away," Indians manager Manny Acta said.
But no one -- from Acta to general manager Chris Antonetti to anyone else within the Indians' coaching or medical staff -- wants to declare that Sizemore is back to his All-Star ways. For now, the team is thrilled that Sizemore looks his old self.
"It's too early to tell," Acta said.
Acta will have to pardon Tribe fans for salivating over the early results.
Through his first 30 plate appearances back in an Indians uniform, Sizemore has hit .357 (10-for-28) with two home runs, four doubles and five RBIs. He has not stolen a base, but Acta has noted that Sizemore has the green light.
In his second at-bat after being activated from the 15-day disabled list, Sizemore sent a 2-0 pitch from Baltimore's Brad Bergesen sailing into the right-field seats for a solo home run at Progressive Field. Sizemore added a two-run blast on Saturday in Minnesota.
For the Indians, the 28-year-old's return had the feel of a major in-season acquisition.
"It's a big boost," Antonetti said. "Grady has demonstrated, when he's healthy, that he's one of the best players in the game. In the short time he's been back, he's certainly provided an additional spark to a team that had already gotten off to a good start. I expect he'll continue to contribute."
It is hard not to miss the qualifier -- "when he's healthy."
Antonetti noted that the Indians have timed the outfielder running from home to first base and the results have been "in the same range" they were prior to the injury. Whether fatigue will set on as the season progresses remains to be seen.
The Indians plan on doing all they can to keep Sizemore healthy and fresh, though. During his first five days back, Sizemore was given a day off from starting after playing two games in a row. A rainout on Friday allowed Acta to rest the center fielder again.
Acta has not revealed a specific plan, but the manager has made it clear that Sizemore will receive scheduled days off throughout the season. Coming back from any operation -- let alone microfracture surgery -- can be difficult, and Acta will be taking measure to help keep Sizemore strong.
"Grady's not going to play every day," Acta said. "He's a tough guy to get out of the lineup when he's healthy, but we're going to have to monitor him anyway and be smart about it, because he's coming back from a tough surgery.
"The last thing we want is to run him into the ground too early."
Running, after all, was the final step in getting Sizemore off the ground.
It was a pair of routine slides on the basepaths -- one into second base on April 1 and another on May 16 -- that did Sizemore in a year ago. The first wreaked havoc on its own, robbing Sizemore of the ability to push off his back leg effectively while swinging. The second ended his season.
After just 33 games played, Sizemore flew to Vail, Colo., where Dr. Richard Steadman prepared to operate on the center fielder's knee. Only after beginning the surgery did Steadman decide to take the route of microfracture -- a technique he devised in the 1980s.
"We didn't know what to expect," Sizemore said. "Going into that surgery, I had no idea really how severe it would be or how my knee would react."
The procedure calls for creating small breaks in the knee as a way to stimulate cartilage growth through the release of stem cells. The surgery also calls for a lengthy rehabilitation process that can toy as much on a person's mind as it does their body.
Indians closer Chris Perez might have put it best.
"You kind of have to start learning how to walk again," said the pitcher.
Sizemore started with the CPM machine and eventually worked his way to crutches. Following months of strengthening and conditioning, Sizemore was permitted to jog lightly -- with timed breaks -- on grass at the onset of Spring Training. After weeks of running and agility work, Sizemore was allowed to move to the bases.
All of this was on an every-other-day basis until the end of camp.
When Sizemore did get the go-ahead to play in games, he was first used as a designated hitter. He didn't play in consecutive games until his recent Minor League rehab stint with Triple-A Columbus. And Sizemore had to wait weeks before being cleared to play full games.
For Sizemore, it was the mental aspect that brought on the most anguish.
"It was such a long time to be away from the game," Sizemore said. "It was a tough rehab, but the time away was the toughest part."
This coming from a player who appeared in at least 158 games in each of the 2005-08 tours with the Tribe, during which Sizemore hit .281 with a .371 on-base percentage, posting an average of 27 home runs, 29 stolen bases, 41 doubles and 81 RBIs per year.
Along the way, Sizemore made three American League All-Star teams, captured a pair of Gold Glove Awards and won a Silver Slugger Award.
Acta is quick to offer another accolade.
"He's the face of this franchise," said the manager.
No one knows for sure given the grueling nature of a baseball season, if Sizemore will be able to continue to play at the elite level Cleveland grew accustomed to in the past.
There's only one thing for certain.
"It's great to have him back," Antonetti said.