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Published: Monday, 5/12/2008

Sheffield shift pays with better hitting

BY JOE VARDON
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

DETROIT Gary Sheffield was going to be off yesterday, even if his teammates were not.

Sheffield was not in the lineup posted for the Tigers seriesfinale yesterday against the Yankees, which was postponed due to rain. Manager Jim Leyland said he was originally going to play Sheffield in left field, but reports from meteorologists and trainers convinced him otherwise.

With the weather as it was, Leyland might have balked at playing the 39-year-old Sheffield anyway. But Tigers trainer Kevin Rand suggested that Sheffield s surgically repaired right shoulder could use a reprieve, and Detroit already had a scheduled off day today.

This was a good day to give him an extra day, Leyland said.

Sheffield played four times in left field last week after opening the season as the Tigers designated hitter. He said his shoulder felt strong initially, but after his third game out there it started going south.

I can play, it s just a matter of me trying to throw someone out, Sheffield said. I don t think that s going to happen.

Sheffield said he has been doing extra work with team trainers to strengthen his shoulder. He said he ll be able to play the field a few days in a row with days off in between.

It appears Sheffield s bat is responding positively to the switch from full-time DH to left field. He batted .333 (5-for-15) last week, lifting his average more than 20 points to .208.

Since joining the Tigers for the start of last season, Sheffield is batting .357 in 16 games as an outfielder and .244 in 143 games as the DH.

I wouldn t say he s out of the woods yet, but he s doing better, Leyland said.

With one more walk, Sheffield will become the 26th player in major league history to record at least 1,400 career walks. He s currently tied for 33rd all-time with 1,584 RBIs.

DON T FORGET: Dontrelle Willis flew to Charlotte this morning to join the Mud Hens, who finish up a five-game series with the Knights, starting at7:15 p.m.

Willis, on the disabled list since April 12 with a hyper-extended right knee, allowed two runs on four hits in 42/3 innings in Toledo on May 2. His second start with the Hens was supposed to be last week, but the Tigers postponed it.

If all goes well tonight in Willis second rehab session, Willis is scheduled to pitch for the Hens again on Saturday in Columbus. Asked what he hoped to accomplish tonight, Willis said: I just want to get through it healthy.

PUT AWAY THE PINK: TheTigers were going to use pink bats in honor of Mother s Day and to promote breast cancer awareness, but didn t get the chance because a famous mom Mother Nature washed out the game. Detroit clubhouse manager Jim Schmakel said 62 pink bats were delivered. He said the players get to keep the bats, but many donate them to auctions and charities.

A LOOK AHEAD: Thanks to yesterday s rainout, the Tigers have two days off before their six-game road trip begins in Kansas City tomorrow. After three games against the Royals, Detroit will begin interleague play with three contests against Arizona.

The pitching matchups against the Royals are as follows: Tigers left-hander Nate Robertson (1-4, 6.64 ERA) against Kansas City RHP Zack Greinke (4-1, 1.80) at 8:10 p.m. tomorrow; RHP Justin Verlander (1-6, 6.43) against RHP Luke Hochevar (2-2, 4.94) at 8:10 p.m. Wednesday; LHP Kenny Rogers (3-3, 5.82) against RHP Gil Meche (2-5, 6.31) at 2:10 p.m. Thursday.



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