CLEVELAND — Batting first. Playing centre.
Grady Sizemore has finally reached the end of his long road back.
The Cleveland Indians activated the three-time all-star from the disabled list on Sunday, ending Sizemore’s 11-month comeback from microfracture surgery on his left knee. He hasn’t played since last May, when he hurt the knee diving back into first base.
“It’s been a long time,” Sizemore said, sitting in the dugout before the series finale against Baltimore. “It’s finally here.”
Sizemore homered in his second at-bat, driving a 2-0 pitch into the lower seats in right to give Cleveland a 2-0 lead. It was his first homer since Aug. 27, 2009. Sizemore doubled into the right-field corner his third time up.
Sizemore endured gruelling months of rehab and therapy, working his knee back into shape. He spent long hours alone on the training fields in Arizona, first jogging and finally running. He overcame the mental strain of being away from the game he loves, his profession.
It’s all behind him now. And as Sizemore prepared for his season debut, he wrestled with emotions and nervous energy.
“I definitely looked forward to this more than anything else,” Sizemore said. “I’ve waited for so long, and now getting a chance to be back is exciting.”
To make room for Sizemore, the Indians placed starter Mitch Talbot on the 15-day disabled list.
Talbot had normal soreness in his elbow following his last start, but it didn’t go away and an MRI revealed inflammation. Manager Manny Acta said the right-hander, who won 10 games as a rookie last year and has pitched well in two starts, could be out “a little longer” than two weeks.
Jeanmar Gomez will be recalled from triple-A Columbus and start Tuesday in Kansas City.
There are no limitations on Sizemore, whose combination of speed, power and hustle made him one of baseball’s top players before he made his first career trip to the disabled list in 2009. Last season, Sizemore appeared in just 33 games before having surgery on June 4.
Acta would not divulge his plans on playing Sizemore, but said the team will work some off days into his schedule over the first few weeks as he builds up strength and stamina. Acta expects Sizemore to again become a full-time, everyday player.
“Once he clears all those hurdles, he’s another guy,” Acta said.
But the 28-year-old Sizemore is much more than that to the Indians, who are off to a surprising 10-4 start. Even sidelined, he remained their most popular player, a box-office draw for a team that finished last in the majors in attendance last season.
Before getting hurt, he was also one of the game’s best leadoff hitters, a spot he’ll immediately slide back into.
Acta spoke with Sizemore during spring training about where he would hit and play once he returned. There was little discussion or debate — Sizemore belongs in the leadoff spot and in centre.
“It’s where I’m comfortable and what I’m used to,” Sizemore said. “But I’ll do whatever needs to be done for the team.”
Acta has no doubt about that, calling Sizemore “a coach’s dream.” He said Sizemore belongs at the top of Cleveland’s lineup.
“He’s comfortable there,” Acta said. “He’s been there before. He’s been very good there before, and we’re happy to have him back. Grady would do whatever we asked him to do. He deserved all the respect in the world, especially with him being the face of this franchise.
“It wasn’t an issue. He’s not that type of guy.”
With Sizemore back, Michael Brantley will move over to left field and drop in the lineup. Acta said Brantley will hit seven, eight or nine and there will be times when he leads off when Sizemore gets a day off.
“Grady is not going to play every day,” Acta said. “It’s impossible to ask him to play every day coming back from this type of surgery right off the bat. Michael is great about it. He’s the type of player we want around here. He’s unselfish and wants to do what’s best for the team.”
No one knows whether Sizemore, who is signed through this season, can get anywhere near being the electrifying player he once was. In 2008, he batted .268 with 33 homers, 90 RBIs, 38 steals, played 157 games and won his second straight Gold Glove.
Acta can only hope Sizemore comes close.
“I have always dreamed since I took this job to see him how he was when he was on top of his game,” Acta said. “We didn’t have an opportunity to see that last year, and I’m looking forward to him getting to that level again.”