GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- After eight months of moving between a training room and a weight room, Indians center fielder Grady Sizemore felt an enormous sense of relief when he was finally allowed to begin activities on a baseball field.
Playing catch. Jogging in the outfield. Taking some swings in a batting cage. Sizemore did not care what was on the daily agenda. He was just thrilled to be running through baseball activities under the Arizona sun. That recent development has made his long rehab from left knee surgery a little easier to handle.
"It's been fun, and it's been exciting," said Sizemore, sitting at his locker after running through a workout at the Indians' player-development complex on Monday. "Being outside and moving around is taking a little bit of the stress off."
On Monday, Sizemore stepped up to the plate on Field 2 at Cleveland's spring home and took part in batting practice with a few of his teammates. After scattering baseballs all over the field -- with team trainers watching closely from behind the cage -- he moved this day's workout to another diamond.
Sizemore proceeded to jog around the warning track with a handful of timed breaks between laps. The center fielder then played catch before moving inside to wrap up another day in what has been a long rehab process. Returning from microfracture surgery is no easy task, and Sizemore is playing it safe.
"We built everything around Opening Day," Sizemore said. "But we're not going to push anything or speed the process up to get to that point. If two weeks from Opening Day, I'm still a little bit behind, or I still need two weeks and five days, we're not going to ramp it up so I can get an extra five days of work in. I want to be playing at the end of October or the end of September -- not just at the beginning of April.
"I want to finish the year and be good for, not only this year, but every year after that as opposed to getting in too early and having something happen. They won't let me go out there unless I'm 100 percent ready, so we're not rushing to get ready for April 1. But, that is still the goal and I obviously want to be ready to get a full season in.
"It's such a major surgery and it's been so long, it'd be foolish to try to go out there and do something to risk everything that we've done and risk all the progress we've made."
After playing in 33 games in 2010, Sizemore's season came to an abrupt end on June 4, when Dr. Richard Steadman -- based in Vail, Colo. -- performed surgery on the center fielder's left knee. The procedure involved drilling small holes into the kneecap in order to stimulate cartilage growth.
Following the operation, Sizemore was on crutches for roughly eight weeks and moved his rehab to the team's complex in Goodyear in August. He spent the entire offseason working out in Arizona and made a handful of trips back to Colorado to be examined by Steadman.
Each time, Steadman was pleased with Sizemore's progress.
"Everything's been good. We haven't had any setbacks," Sizemore said. "Everything's been encouraging and the doctors are happy with the progress. It's just one of those things where it's a long rehab. It's very slow. It's baby steps. We're definitely erring on the side of caution to prevent any setbacks or major problems with the knee."
Sizemore, 28, is known for his aggressive style of play both offensively and defensively. He played no fewer than 157 games from 2005-08, was named to three American League All-Star teams, earned a pair of Gold Gloves and threatened 20-plus homers and 20-plus stolen bases on a yearly basis.
Sizemore -- under contract for $7.5 million this season -- wants to be that player again for Cleveland.
Injuries limited Sizemore to 106 games in '09 and the latest rehab process has taught him how to slow himself down. While it has been frustrating at times, Sizemore has learned to accept his limits in order to get back to full strength.
"It's not hard to hold back," Sizemore said, "because I'm not at that point where I can push it yet. ... It's been eight months of taking it so slow and having a lot of caution, so it's almost one of those things where you trust in the surgery and trust in the rehab and you don't look too far ahead."
Right now, Sizemore's schedule calls for him to do a running routine three times per week and baseball activities three or four times per week. Sizemore said that he will probably begin running through some agility tests either later this week or next week to further test the strength in his knee.
Sizemore added that he still feels some minor discomfort in his knee while running, but that was expected.
"I'm not symptom-free," he said. "It's probably going to be like that even when I'm cleared to go and 100 percent and ready to play. I still suspect I'll feel something different in my knee. It's not necessarily going to be pain, but there's definitely going to be an awareness that I had surgery in that area."
Indians general manager Chris Antonetti has noted that Sizemore will likely miss at least the first week of Cactus League games, which begin on Feb. 27. Cleveland remains hopeful that Sizemore will be ready in time for Opening Day, but neither the team nor its center fielder will force that result.
"I want to be with the guys from start to finish," Sizemore said. "But if I'm responding slowly, they're not going to hesitate to push me back a couple days if I need it. Hopefully we won't get to that point. It's going to be challenging to get ready and to get enough games in to get ready.
"Hopefully everything goes right on schedule and we'll be fine."