Indians OF Sizemore working way back

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GOODYEAR, ARIZ. (AP) - Grady Sizemore takes one final, healthy cut in the batting cage and scoops up a few stray baseballs scattered on the infield grass. After pausing to sign autographs for a few fans, he heads off to the next phase of his daily workout.

By himself. A consummate team player, Sizemore’s on his own.

He jogs past teammates, who shuffle by in groups of two and three heading toward the Indians’ clubhouse. They stop and stomp their metal cleats on the sidewalk to remove dirt before heading inside for lunch. Sizemore’s on a different schedule.

Arriving at a back field behind Cleveland’s training complex, Sizemore takes another step in recovery from microfracture surgery on his left knee. With two trainers watching, the three-time All-Star center fielder runs half-speed around three orange cones.

He repeats the drill several times. It’s a strange sight: Sizemore, blessed with such great speed, moving so deliberately.

On another sunswept March morning in Arizona, the nearby Estrella Mountains provide a gorgeous backdrop as Sizemore continues his own uphill climb.

It’s a tedious ascent.

“I’m not looking to push things,” Sizemore said. “I don’t want to make things worse. We’re taking slow steps. We’re going to get there. I’m just being patient.”

Earlier this week, Indians general manager Chris Antonetti acknowledged for the first time that it’s unlikely that Sizemore will be ready by opening day on April 1. That’s been the 28-year-old’s stated goal all along, but it now appears that Sizemore’s 2011 debut with Cleveland will be delayed.

And, at this point, no one knows with any certainty when he’ll be back in manager Manny Acta’s lineup.

Barring any problems, the team anticipates that Sizemore, cleared this week to begin agility drills, will play Cactus League games in two weeks. However, nothing is set in stone. There’s no need to rush. The Indians aren’t nearly as concerned with Sizemore being with them at the start of this season. They want him for the finish.

After all, they need him for this year _ and beyond.

He’s the face of the Indians. Sizemore’s been the team’s most popular player almost since the moment he was called up from the minors in 2004. His chiseled looks made him an instant hit with Cleveland’s female fan base. And his rare combination of speed, power and all-out hustle won over the guys.

Former GM and current team president Mark Shapiro once dubbed Sizemore “one of the greatest players of our generation.” He seemed indestructible, playing in all 162 games in 2006 and 2007, and 157 in 2008. Sizemore wouldn’t take a day off, further endearing him to Cleveland’s blue-collar constituency.

But his 2009 season was sabotaged and cut short by injuries. He made it through just 33 games last year before undergoing surgery in Vail, Colo., on June 4, when Dr. Richard Steadman drilled holes into Sizemore’s knee cap, causing bleeding to hopefully stimulate cartilage growth.

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