Ryne Sandberg understands what Grady Sizemore is up against -- sort of.
After appearing in just 57 games during the strike-shortened 1994 season, Sandberg sat out for the entire 1995 season before returning for the ’96 campaign. Similarly, Sizemore appeared in 33 games in 2010 and 71 in 2011 and didn’t see any action for two straight seasons.
So maybe that explains why the adjustment period has been a little rocky for the three-time All-Star.
“I took one year off and came back pretty good,” Sandberg said. “For him, I think the biggest thing is I did it at 38 years old, he’s 31 years old. He has spring training under his belt, he’s got some games under his belt and he’s on the younger side of things. For him, I think it’s getting a chance to show what he can do and to play and basically do what he does, and tonight that’s playing center field and getting on base in the leadoff spot anyway that he can playing the game.”
Indeed, Friday night’s game against the Washington Nationals at Citizens Bank Park marks yet another new beginning for Sizemore. After microfracture surgery on both knees, surgery for a sports hernia, arthroscopic knee surgery and an injured back, it’s amazing that Sizemore is able to play -- let alone still attempting to.
But after a subpar start to the 2014 season with the Boston Red Sox and a week playing for the Phils’ Triple A affiliate, Sizemore is ready to start over again for the Phillies.
He won’t be taking it for granted.
“Going through everything I have gone through, I appreciate every day here,” Sizemore said. “Not knowing whether you will every play again, I think that every day. Any day I get to put a uniform on is something I appreciate. So I will take a moment and enjoy it. And like I said, I am happy to be here and happy to have the opportunity.”
Though he batted just .216 with two homers and a .612 OPS, Sizemore’s offensive numbers aren’t too different than what leftfielder Dom Brown has posted this season. But unlike Brown, Sizemore is known as a stellar defensive player and has a pair of Gold Gloves from his days in center field with the Indians.
This season for the Red Sox, Sizemore played all three outfield positions and brings some versatility to the Phillies.
“The reports on him, he was swinging a good bat, he was using the whole field, a line-drive stroke,” Sandberg said. “Good hit-and-run guy, he bunts, plays all three outfield positions. So he brings some options for a lineup, brings options for the outfield.”
Sizemore also is known for his patience at the plate. In 481 games from 2006 to 2008, Sizemore walked 277 times. He also averaged 28 homers, 42 doubles and 31 stolen bases during that stretch.
But as Phillies’ fans have learned, it’s not 2008 anymore. Though Sizemore’s best days are likely in the past, buried beneath all of those injuries, he says he is healthy. That’s no small thing for Sizemore.
“I definitely feel a little bit older than 31,” Sizemore said. “But I think it's just a matter of being gone for so long and trying to get back into shape. I think I'll get there. I just don't know how long it will take.”