Sheffield vows to be less controversial

Published 3:12 am Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Gary Sheffield plans to let his vicious swing do the talking this season.

The 40-year-old designated hitter, one away from the 500-homer club, insisted he’s going to keep his oft-controversial opinions to himself.

‘‘After a while, you just get tired of the rhetoric,’’ Sheffield said Tuesday before joining the Detroit Tigers for their first full-squad workout.

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And on the day much of baseball was gripped by Alex Rodriguez’s news conference addressing his use of performance-enhancing drugs, Sheffield vowed he’d try to stick to his promise.

‘‘I hope so,’’ he said, smiling and laughing.

In recent years, Sheffield has made waves by calling the investigation into steroid use in baseball a ‘‘witch hunt,’’ saying former New York Yankees manager Joe Torre treated black and white players differently and bristling at being a designated hitter in Detroit.

Last year he called his former agent, Scott Boras, a ‘‘bad person’’ and said he would have more to say when their dispute was settled regardless of a possible fine or suspension.

But he declined comment on an arbitrator’s decision in October to make Sheffield pay Boras $550,000 for eliminating a 2004 option that allowed him to become a free agent.

‘‘Anything personally, I’m not even getting involved with it,’’ Sheffield said.

After he slumped to a .225 average with 19 homers in just 114 games because of injuries, Sheffield reported to camp for his 21st season feeling better than he has since 2001 — something he attributes to not having offseason surgery for the first time in several years.

‘‘The first time I noticed the difference was (in December) when I went out to take batting practice and to throw,’’ Sheffield said. ‘‘I was like, ’Now, I’m back to normal.’’’

Manager Jim Leyland was impressed with Sheffield’s first swings: ‘‘He looks like he’s in great physical shape. You can tell by the look on his face that he feels healthy and that he’s not concerned.’’

Sheffield is one homer from becoming the 25th player to reach 500, and his uncle Dwight Gooden and other family members plan to attend Detroit’s season-opening series at Toronto.

‘‘For the team’s sake, I just hope I get it out of the way so I don’t have to worry about it,’’ he said. ‘‘I don’t want to put the focus on my accomplishments.’’

Miguel Tejada, meanwhile, faced his Houston Astros teammates for the first time since he pleaded guilty in federal court last week to lying to congressional investigators in 2005 when they asked if he had conversations with players about performance-enhancing drugs.

‘‘It’s part of this country. It’s part of my life,’’ Tejada said. ‘‘I apologized to my family, I apologized to everyone around me in baseball. Today I stood up and apologized to the entire team.’’

Owner Drayton McLane, general manager Ed Wade and manager Cecil Cooper each offered encouraging words during the meeting. And Wade said players offered a round of applause after the apology by Tejada, who faces prison time and deportation but is expected to avoid both.

‘‘It means a lot to me,’’ Tejada later told a small media gathering. ‘‘That’s going to make me work harder and harder in spring training to make me have a better season. Everything is behind and now I’m happy to be here.’’

Minnesota Twins starter Francisco Liriano arrived in camp and said he will not play for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic in March so he could focus on the upcoming season.

‘‘I’m going to stay here,’’ he said. ‘‘I just want to do the right thing.’’

Liriano said he hadn’t told his Dominican teammates of his decision.

‘‘They might understand, because of my position here,’’ Liriano said. ‘‘I’m going to be the second starter, No. 3, whatever — they know this is my career.’’

Last season, the young lefty got off to a rocky start while recovering from Tommy John surgery in his pitching elbow. He was in Triple-A from mid-April to the beginning of August, then came back and went 6-1 with a 2.74 ERA.

In Mesa, Ariz., Alfonso Soriano said would move out of the Chicago Cubs’ leadoff spot if manager Lou Piniella decides it will make the lineup better.

‘‘He was agreeable with it,’’ Piniella said. ‘‘We’re open. Our job in spring training is to put together the best team we can.’’

Soriano did have a preference, though, if he were to be moved from his comfort spot.

‘‘If they want to move me from the leadoff, I’d like to stay in one spot,’’ Soriano said. ‘‘I know how they pitch me batting leadoff, so now I have to learn how they want to pitch me in different spots in the lineup.’’

Also Tuesday, Nate McLouth avoided arbitration by agreeing to a $15.75 million, three-year contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates that includes a team option for 2012.

McLouth hit .276 last season with 26 home runs and 94 RBIs. He was on the NL All-Star team and won a Gold Glove in center field.

‘‘We agreed to the deal because we believe in Nate and believe we’re going to feel as strongly four years from now as we do today,’’ general manager Neal Huntington said. ‘‘We get cost certainty as we move forward.’’

The Marlins ensured they will have certainty in the clubhouse, announcing an extension for manager Fredi Gonzalez that runs through the 2011 season. The agreement was reached Saturday.

Gonzalez was entering the final year of a three-year deal. The Marlins went 71-91 in his first season and improved to 84-77 last year, when he became the third manager to lead them to a winning record.

The Los Angeles Dodgers and Andre Ethier agreed to a $3.1 million, one-year deal after an arbitration hearing was delayed so the sides could continue to negotiate.

And 2003 NL Cy Young Award winner Eric Gagne and the Milwaukee Brewers agreed to a minor league contract with an invitation to the major league camp.

Gagne had a $10 million, one-year deal with the Brewers last season. He started out as the closer, blew six save chances and wound up on the disabled list.