"I felt like my shoulder benefited the most out of all of this," Sheffield said Tuesday. "I was able to get that rested. When the oblique gave me a chance to exercise my arm, I was able to do that, and it bounced back pretty well. Now I'm so much stronger."
He didn't need long to show that strength. After looking at a called third strike and grounding out in his first two at-bats, Sheffield turned on a fastball on Cardinals starter Braden Looper and hit one of his typical hard-hit home runs. It went out on a line and in a hurry.
"That was a Gary home run, kind of a long line drive," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "Hopefully we can get him on a roll."
Sheffield finished the night 1-for-4 with his fourth homer of the year.
"It's about getting back in the swing of things," Sheffield said. "I'm enjoying the game. The game slowed down for me tonight, and hopefully there's good things to come."
He's certainly stronger than he was on Memorial Day, when he strained his oblique coming out of the batter's box on a ground ball. He hobbled to the dugout and went onto the 15-day DL the next day. He spent the next week-plus essentially forced to rest, since he couldn't really move without feeling the oblique.
Long before the oblique, however, was the shoulder problem, essentially an issue since Spring Training. He underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum last fall, but struggled to strengthen it during the spring. He had more soreness once the season started, and underwent multiple rounds of cortisone shots. In the process, he struggled to a .213 batting average and .331 slugging percentage, hitting three home runs and 12 RBIs over 136 at-bats.
The one thing that he couldn't try was rest, not until he had to sit with the oblique problem.
"It's not a matter of me withstanding the long haul," Sheffield said. "It's a matter of me allowing my body to get healthy, and then I can do it. A lot of times, I never gave things a chance to heal. I'd have the surgery and go right back on the field without letting it heal, and that's a detriment to your body."
He noticed the difference when he began swinging at live pitches during his rehab stint last week for Class A Lakeland. He went 2-for-13 in five games, but both hits were solo home runs. He was pitched to so carefully that he drew six walks.
"They weren't throwing me a lot of strikes down there," he said. "When I did swing, I had to chase some bad pitches just to test the ribs. In doing that, I was able to test it well."
His swing, he said, was free and easy, and he was able to hit the ball around the field without starting his swing early. The challenge will be to try to carry that over to big league competition.
He got his shot Tuesday in a little lower-pressure situation than usual. Manager Jim Leyland wrote him into the seventh spot in the Tigers order.
The Tigers can afford to do that now with their offense rolling. Carlos Guillen entered Tuesday batting .320 with 13 RBIs in June, mostly out of the third spot in the order that Sheffield previously occupied. Marcus Thames' recent power tear has settled him into the fifth spot to ward opponents away from pitching around Miguel Cabrera.
"I don't want to tinker around too much with [the order]," Leyland said. "Plus, I think right now it's best to get Sheffield out of the limelight a little bit, let him get settled back in down there. If we get him going, our lineup becomes very deep."
With Sheffield's return taking away at-bats from Jeff Larish, the slugging first baseman became the odd man out on the roster, optioned to Triple-A Toledo to make room.
Larish went 8-for-40 in 15 games for Detroit, slugging one homer and driving in seven runs. He went out on a high note in his final at-bat, knocking in Saturday's tying run at San Diego with a pinch-hit single in the seventh inning.
Leyland marveled after that game about Larish's ability to get a big base hit after sitting on the bench for most of the night, something that can be hard for younger players. He'll go back to getting regular at-bats in Toledo, obviously, but Leyland sent him back with instructions to take ground balls at third base and work in the corner outfield spots on the side.
"I think he'll be fine," Leyland said. "He's played some third base before in college in a little bit. He's played some outfield. We're starving for left-handed bats."