Sizing up Athletics' Sizemore: This spring already better than last

PHOENIX -- Early spring. Infield dirt. First couple of ground balls.

Flashbacks?

“Not really,” Athletics infielder Scott Sizemore says. “Every once in awhile I think about it, and I’m still bewildered as to how it happened.”

Few single baseball moments were as head-scratching inexplicable and personally crushing as that ground ball Sizemore crouched to field on a lazy spring morning in Oakland’s very first workout one year ago.

Sizemore, working on learning third base, moved to his right and planted. His left foot didn’t turn when required, cleats stuck in the grass.

The Athletics went on, shockingly, to win the AL West title.

Sizemore went from there to major knee surgery –- his left anterior cruciate ligament was blown –- and never saw the field again in 2012.

Teammates told him they heard the pop! from 100 feet away.

“I knew it wasn’t a good sign,” Sizemore says.

From the perspective of a lost year and a new spring, Sizemore stares ahead into what he hopes are better days.

He is happy, healthy and embarking upon a spirited battle with Jemile Weeks for the second base job. Third base? Josh Donaldson’s, now.

His rehab is finished. His knee is sound. His confidence is recaptured.

But he still has lots of work to do.

“You can’t replicate game speed,” Sizemore, 28, says. “I’m really looking forward to getting back in a game, playing at game speed, feeling what your body feels.

“I’m really anxious.”

Even now, watching him move around fluidly in the green and gold, it still seems impossible to believe how he lost 2012.

The worst part came on Opening Day, when he still wasn’t even mobile enough to go onto the field. As the A’s lined up along the baseline for introductions, the public-address guy announced Sizemore’s name, attached to the phrase “regrettably, stuck in the dugout. …”

“Or something like that,” Sizemore says.

Best part of his lost year came six months later, when the A’s beat Texas in Oakland to clinch a totally unexpected playoff berth. By that point, Sizemore could actually go out onto the field.

“But I definitely stayed on the outside of the pile,” he says. “I was keeping everybody at arm’s distance. I was ready to stiff-arm somebody if they came too close.”

The A’s acquired him from the Tigers in May, 2011, for a left-hander named David Purcy. Detroit’s fifth-round pick in the 2006 draft, Sizemore debuted for the Tigers on Opening Day, 2010. But with a lifetime slash line of .239/.329/.382 over 158 big-league games, he never could get firm footing on a regular job.

Then that footing totally betrayed him last February.

Now, back at the position with which he is most comfortable, he’s not completely sure what to expect this spring as the A’s work toward defending their division title.

Part of it will depend on what he shows manager Bob Melvin and Co. Part of it, no doubt, will depend on which Weeks shows up.

Two years ago, Weeks made a very strong first impression with the glove (slick) and the bat (.303 average, .340 on-base percentage).

Last year, Weeks regressed to the point where the A’s shipped him to Triple-A Sacramento in August. This time, neither the glove (sloppy, distracted) nor the bat (too much swinging for the fences) was much good.

So what Oakland has now at second base is some good, ol’ fashioned competition.

The view of Weeks, who slipped last summer to .221 with a .305 OBP?

“He has to get back to doing what he was doing the year before last,” Melvin says. “He has to go back and play solid defense as well.

“Sometimes when you’re not hitting, it affects your total game.”

And Sizemore?

“You have to get past the mental hurdle. He’s had a couple of difficult injuries over the last four years,” Melvin says of the knee and a fractured left ankle suffered in the Arizona Fall League in ’09. “He’s mentally tough. He works really hard.

“He looks like a natural at second base. It will take a little time, given that he played third base for us [in 91 games in 2011]. The first couple of games he plays this spring, I don’t think you can say, ‘This is who he is.’ ”

If Sizemore is slow to the punch, and if Weeks cannot regain his consistency, the A’s have several options. Adam Rosales, Andy Parrino and Eric Sogard all will get time at second this spring. Veteran infielder Jed Lowrie, a shortstop by trade, is another option –- especially if Japanese free agent Hiro Nakajima wins the shortstop job.

“I really don’t know,” Sizemore says of how second sizes up. “I have to go and play the best I can. Obviously, I have to prove I’m healthy and ready to go.

“They know my body, and where I should be. It’s their decision. All I’m going to do is go play the best I can and let the chips fall where they may.”

There will be plenty of time for him to work toward arranging those chips. This will be a very long spring, with an extra week’s worth of games because of the World Baseball Classic.

But, for Sizemore, who already has made it past the first week, it will be nowhere near as long as last spring.

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