Thursday, March 15, 2007

Gary Sheffield, Numbers in Decline, Leaves Camp

Tigers designated hitter Gary Sheffield -- with his spring hitting totals dramatically poorer than any season since at least 2002 -- has been given an excused but unexplained absence from camp after sitting out since Monday, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Beat reporter Jon Paul Morosi reported in Thursday's editions that Sheffield had departed from the Tigers spring facility in Lakeland, Fla., to attend to what was described as "personal business" and that, according to his lawyer, he will be back by next week at the latest. No further explanation was offered.

Though the absence was not attributed to health or fatigue, manager Jim Leyland was quoted as saying that in any event Sheffield was due for rest after taking several road trips. "He's been on about five in a row. He's 40 years old. He's had more at-bats than just about anybody (in camp)," Leyland said.

Sheffield, who actually will turn 39 next November, is tied for ninth with 23 at-bats for the exhibition season and his hitting .174 with one homer, as compared to .271 last spring; .368 in '05; .344 in '04; .386 in '03; and .342 in '02, according to ESPN statistics quoted by the newspaper.

Sheffield injured his wrist in a field collision last year and missed 123 games, but has been described in various accounts as being at full strength and completely recovered.

The New York Times has reported that an arbitrator was scheduled this week to convene a hearing concerning Sheffield's grievance against his former agent, Scott Boras, but the Free Press said it was indeterminate whether Sheffield was required to attend.