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A sometimes-irreverent look at Detroit's Boys of Summer, the Tigers, as they try to return to the top of the American League Central.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Scott Sizemore's recall from Toledo a surprise to him, at least

DETROIT — Scott Sizemore tried not to think about Detroit much during his exile to Triple-A Toledo this spring.

He knew something was up when he was scratched from the Mud Hens’ lineup just before Monday night’s game, though.

“When I went in the clubhouse to hit in the cage ... I saw Nev (Mud Hens manager Phil Nevin), he kind of gave me the ‘come here.’ And then he walked down to tell Argenis Diaz ... that he was going to play second. I kind of had a good idea at that point, but I wasn’t officially told until after the game,” Sizemore said of his call-up to the Tigers, unexpected to everyone but him, apparently.

The Opening Day second baseman for the Tigers a year ago, Sizemore lasted just 30 games before losing his job, and getting sent to the minors. This spring, he couldn’t figure out a way to reclaim it, losing the competition with Will Rhymes for the job.

But Sizemore didn’t sulk. Rather than concentrate on what could have been, or could someday be, the 26-year-old chose to focus on what was.

And he didn’t sit by the phone, waiting for the call-up.

“To be honest, I didn’t really even think about it. I didn’t let the stuff I couldn’t control affect me, just focus on the stuff on the field, and it seems to have paid off, thus far,” Sizemore said Tuesday, as he wandered around the Tigers locker room, collecting high-fives, fist-bumps and hugs, and trying to find his locker.
“I think anytime you worry about things you can’t control, it takes a little bit of the control away from you. My mindset was just to do everything I could on the field, and whatever happened with the front office up here, is just out of my control. Can’t do anything about it.”

But Sizemore did do something about it: He tore the cover off the ball in Toledo, leading the International League with a .408 average. His extra-base pop — seven doubles, one triple, two homers — was part of the reason the Tigers called him up after Monday’s game, the first step in an attempt to fix the feeble top of their batting order.

“Just knowing what I had to do to get back up here,” Sizemore said of his focus. “You’re not going to get handed the job. You’ve gotta kind of force the issue. That was my mentality, just go down there, work as hard as I could, do everything I could to earn an other shot.”

Last year, that shot quickly slipped away. He was hitting .206 when he was sent down to Toledo on May 15. He didn’t return to the bigs until the September call-ups.

In the interim, Carlos Guillen took over the job until he got injured, then Rhymes shined in his opportunity the rest of the way.

That, as much as anything, was what got Rhymes the job in Spring Training. While Rhymes outhit Sizemore on the Grapefruit League circuit (.328 to .243), much of that difference was in the final few games of the spring, when Rhymes already had the job in hand.

And while Rhymes was hitting just .221 when he was optioned to Toledo after Monday’s game, manager Jim Leyland was insistent that it was more a matter of circumstance than performance.

“It’s not like Will Rhymes did so bad. I certainly don’t want to indicate to anybody that we’re blaming all of our offensive woes on Will Rhymes. That’s not the case. The case in this matter is, we’re looking for a little punch,” Leyland said of Rhymes, who’s never going to be confused for a power hitter. “So he kind of caught the short end of the stick, to be honest with you.”

Rhymes’ advantage over Sizemore — aside from defense — might be in his fit for the No. 2 spot in the order, where you want someone who can move a runner into scoring position for the big RBI guys. Problem was, Rhymes didn’t have that opportunity too often, considering the struggles of leadoff man Austin Jackson in getting on base.

Sizemore may be a step below Rhymes, defensively, but he’s making up ground, thanks to a return to health. He missed time in the 2008 season with a wrist injury, then returned to earn honors as the Tigers’ Minor League Player of the Year in 2009, before a fractured ankle ended his season prematurely.

It’s taken him more than a year to get his mobility and flexibility completely back, and regain the range robbed from him by the injuries.

Now the test will be to continue his torrid hitting, something that was even more unexpected to Sizemore than the call-up.

“To be honest, you’d say yeah (it’s unexpected). You can’t ever expect to hit like that going into the season. Of course, I know I’m capable of doing that, it’s just being mentally focused, and it’s not really necessarily looking at my results, but what I do with the at-bat. It just keeps kind of going well for me,” said Sizemore, struggling to remember a time in his career that he’d hit so well for so long, and settling on a three-week span in Class A.

Even if it doesn’t keep up at quite that same pace, he’s still reasonably sure that Tigers fans haven’t seen the real Scott Sizemore yet.

“I’d like to think so. I think I’ve got a lot more in the tank,” he said. “It’s just putting your best foot forward, and showing everybody else what you’ve got.”

Short hops
• New York starter CC Sabathia has been up-and-down in his career at Comerica Park, starting 6-0 in his first eight starts there, but going 1-4 with a 5.63 ERA since 2006. Entering Tuesday night, he had not beaten the Tigers on the road as a Yankee.

• Alex Avila’s two home runs Monday night marked his second multi-homer game of his short major league career. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he became just the second Tigers catcher in 15 years (Pudge Rodriguez, Aug. 8, 2004) to hit two home runs in a home game. Avila came into Tuesday night’s game leading all MLB catchers in RBI (21) and total bases (48), ranking second in home runs (5) and triples (1), third in doubles (6) and runs (12). He’s hitting .309 and slugging .593, both totals best among full-time catchers.

• The Tigers continue to pound out doubles, hitting at least one in 27 of 29 games after Ramon Santiago’s two-bagger Monday night.

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