FORT MYERS, Fla. — What can we expect from Grady Sizemore?
Not even Grady Sizemore knows for sure.
Sizemore, 31, has missed two seasons and parts of the last four with a variety of knee and back injuries that have left the former five-tool player, two-time Gold Glove winner, and three-time All-Star wondering just how good he still is.
“Just come in and see where I’m at,” said Sizemore, who will wear No. 38 in his comeback attempt.
Sizemore spent more than five hours at the Red Sox complex at Jet Blue Park Sunday morning working mostly with coordinator of sports medicine Dan Dyrek.
“I’m happy to be healthy,” Sizemore said. “I’m good to go. There’ll be some things that I’ll be working on this spring trying to get back to 100 percent. I’m in good shape but not necessarily baseball shape, but I’m moving around good. I look forward to getting out there.”
When the Red Sox evaluated Sizemore this winter they felt that his speed and explosion were still there after the intricate and serious microfracture knee surgeries he had. He’s had to devote his life to rehabbing, still not knowing whether he’ll be able to make a full recovery or what he can do as a player now.
All he knows is he’s going to give it his best shot. And if he should stay healthy he could earn as much as $6 million. He doesn’t really look at being in a competition with Jackie Bradley Jr. for the center field job, or that he’s replacing Jacoby Ellsbury. If those issues arise, Sizemore would be the happiest man on the planet. Right now, he just wants to determine whether he can play again and when.
“We’ll see,” Sizemore said. “Don’t know if I’ll be ready by the first spring training game, which I think is Feb. 28, but it’ll be close. I’ll be right there. I still need some evaluating to do of myself once I get on the field and start the baseball workouts.”
While he’s looked great in controlled workouts, he knows, “I need to get out on an actual field. It’s one thing to be in a controlled setting on turf, but when you’re moving around on the field every day you’re pounding and hitting the bases, I need to see how that feels. The timing and everything needs to get sharpened up. It’s been a couple of years so I’m going to be rusty.”
The one thing he seemed sure about was his speed.
“I feel like I have the speed,” he said. “It’s more durability; can you put it together every day? Maybe out of the chute I’m not going to say my speed is exactly the way it used to be, but it’s going to get better. It’s just a matter of staying healthy and putting a good program together.”
Sizemore once played 382 consecutive games with the Indians. A sprained ankle ended the streak on April 27, 2008. That’s when his injury problems seemed to begin.
In 2009, he had to pull out of the World Baseball Classic because of a left groin strain in spring training. He also underwent elbow surgery and hernia surgery in September of ’09.
Things never got better. He had microfracture surgery on his left knee after 33 games in 2010. He started to have right knee injuries, sustaining a contusion early in the season in 2011, then had another hernia surgery, and also had an arthroscopic procedure on his right knee.
The Red Sox were interested in signing Sizemore in the offseason before the 2012 campaign, but he returned to the Indians, only to have more issues with his back and another microfracture surgery on the right knee, not appearing in any games. He sat out 2013.
While Sizemore has exercised a great deal of patience during his rehab, he knows he’s going to need a large dose of it as he gets back into action.
“It’s all going to be bad, not bad but rusty,” Sizemore said. “In the offseason, when you come in normally, you feel rusty, but then when you haven’t played for two years and the better part of four years I’ve been injured, my timing is going to be off.
“It’s going to be tough. I’m not going to get too frustrated because I know I’m going to go through some bumps early. That’s expected.”
Sizemore indicated that there were many factors in choosing Boston over other teams, including the Reds, who appeared to have a deal with him before Sizemore opted for the Sox. One of the factors was Boston’s medical staff — mainly Dyrek. He’s also familiar with John Farrell, Mike Hazen, and Torey Lovullo, all part of the old Indians system that Sizemore graduated from.
Sizemore has not been able to seek advice from players who have gone through what he has gone through because there isn’t one quite like him.
“Nobody comes to mind,” Sizemore said. “I don’t know too many guys who have been through my situation. It’s a unique situation so I don’t know what to expect. I really don’t know what to expect over the next six weeks. It’s a day-to-day thing. It’s a lot of communication with the medical staff and coaching staff.”
Sizemore, once one of the most durable players in baseball, has done only rehab the last four years. “It’s all I’ve known,” he said. “It’s been frustrating. I’m sick of it, so it’s fun to get back into this environment again when I can take the field and remember that feeling again.”
He says the time off has allowed him to see baseball in a different way.
“I’ve been more a student of the game than a player, so maybe I can take little things,” he said. “When I get out there, I hope I am better for it. Over time I should be able to come back and be better.”
As far as dreams that he may once again roam center field, Sizemore is taking a much more realistic approach.
“I’m willing to play anywhere,” he said. “Coming back, whatever team I signed with I was going to do whatever was best for the team in whatever role they wanted me in. I have to evaluate myself to see how it looks and see how it feels. I hope to play all positions.”
He said of the ordeal of the last four years, “You basically go insane. You’re frustrated, upset. You’re not in a good place.”
He thinks he’s in a good place now.
What he doesn’t know is what none of us knows — will the five-tool Grady Sizemore ever return?Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.