When the trade with the Yankees was announced after last season, Sheffield was billed as the power bat the Tigers were missing, the feared hitter that would make Detroit’s middle of the order one of the most vaunted in all of baseball. But, through the first four weeks of the season all Sheffield looked like a 38 year old former slugger off of an injury riddled season.
At one point he was hitting .222 with one home run and six RBI, but the most telling stat of Sheffield’s struggles was his 16 strikeouts. It wasn’t that he was hitting the ball hard at fielders; he was simply not hitting the ball at all.
Everything else the Tigers expected Sheffield to bring to the club were on display: Patience at the plate, the ability to work the count and natural baseball instincts, which he showed on the base paths. Opposing managers were even wary of playing the Tigers because they knew Sheffield was a sleeping giant waiting to be awakened.
And boy, were they right. In the last six games Sheffield has been hitting .429 with two home runs and four RBI, and just as importantly he has only struck out once. Although his confidence never wavered, and he started to heat up before Tuesday’s run-in with the Orioles, perhaps his home run against Daniel Cabrera will be the moment that we look back on and remember as his coming out party.
The first three weeks at the plate were tough for Sheffield, as they were for most of the Tiger lineup. Although this version of Gary Sheffield has only been for a few games, it is the version that fans and the ownership expected to see wearing the Old English D, because it is who has been throughout his career.
Some writers and other baseball people questioned Dave Dombroski’s decision to sign Sheffield to a three year extension coming off of a wrist injury, but he is one of the truly elite players in the game today, and it was only a matter of time before he broke out of his slump and showed his Hall of Fame ability to Tiger fans.
To some hitters, a few good games is just that, a nice little streak before they revert back to their solid, but unspectacular numbers. But to a hitter as talented and accomplished as Gary Sheffield, a few spectacular games are the ones that remind them of a key ingredient in their swing, and are often the ones that put them into a zone that only a few other players can understand. With the way Sheffield is currently hitting, it looks like his long April is over, which is going to turn into a very long season for opposing pitchers.