April 18, 2014

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Tribe notes: Hafner starting to power up

CLEVELAND — It’s a minute sampling, but Indians manager Eric Wedge thinks Travis Hafner’s performance over his last six games through Monday is a sign that the team’s top run producer is finally emerging from a season-long scuffle at the plate.
“I feel like he’s getting there,” said Wedge of Cleveland’s designated hitter, who entered Tuesday hitting .320 (8-for-25) with three RBIs and three multihit efforts over the six-game span. “He’s a (heck) of a lot closer now than he has been all year.”
During the productive spell, Hafner (.256, 18 HRs, 75 RBIs in 121 games through Monday) has also made plenty of loud outs, hitting the ball hard on a number of occasions, but right at fielders positioned in the “Hafner Shift.”
“He’s hit some balls into the shift,” said hitting instructor Derek Shelton. “He’s hitting the ball hard. We’re seeing him hit the ball to all fields, we’re seeing more consistent swings and he’s laying off of pitches.”
All signs that Hafner is beginning to swing like himself — the player that entered the year having hit .305 or better with at least 28 home runs and 108 RBIs in three consecutive seasons.
Throughout the lengthy dry spell, Hafner’s power numbers have remained respectable, just not what the Indians have come to expect.
“The power never goes away,” Wedge said. “Once you see him start to hit, the power will follow right along with it.”

See you in September

Wedge confirmed that the plan is for Cliff Lee and Jeremy Sowers to pitch out of the bullpen, if and when they are promoted from Triple-A Buffalo when big league rosters are eligible to expand to 40 players on Sept. 1.
“Right now, we’ve got our starting rotation,” Wedge said of C.C. Sabathia, Fausto Carmona, Jake Westbrook, Paul Byrd and Aaron Laffey. “Whoever does come up from a pitching standpoint, they’re going to go to the bullpen.”
Wedge said the team would promote a handful of players on Sept. 1, with the rest to follow once Cleveland’s minor league teams have completed their seasons. Buffalo is in the midst of a battle for the postseason, leading the International League wild-card race by a half-game through Monday, with seven to play.
Players that are likely to be among the September call-ups include pitchers Jason Stanford, Matt Miller, Adam Miller, Edward Mujica, Lee and Sowers, infielders Andy Marte, Luis Rivas and Mike Rouse and outfielders Ben Francisco and Shin-Soo Choo.

Triple dipper

The triple play the Indians turned on Tuesday was the 29th in franchise history, accounting for the 15th time they accomplished the feat in Cleveland.
A couple of other fun facts regarding the Indians and triple plays:
Hall of Famer Napolean Lajoie was part of a triple play as the Indians second baseman on
May 6, 1914, against the St. Louis Browns. The following season, he hit into a triple play against the Indians as a member of the Philadelphia A’s.
Another Cleveland Hall of Famer, pitcher Early Wynn, hit into a triple play against the Indians as a member of the Washington Senators in 1939.
Prior to Tuesday night, eight of the last nine triple plays the Indians turned came on the road — three straight in Baltimore from 1954-57.

Byrd watching

Paul Byrd’s pitching line from his start last Wednesday in Detroit looked a lot better on Tuesday.
The three first-inning runs Byrd allowed were changed to unearned runs when a single was reversed to an error on Victor Martinez, who let a grounder down the first-base line from Sean Casey get under his backhand attempt.
The scoring change left Byrd’s line at three earned runs on seven hits through 51/3 innings and lowered his season ERA from 4.61 to 4.43.
“That was nice of Vic,” Byrd said. “He came in (Tuesday) and gave me a big hug. He’s not selfish. I told him, ‘Thank you.’”

Minor details

Francisco, Asdrubal Cabrera and Jordan Brown were named to postseason all-star teams in their respective leagues. Francisco entered Tuesday leading the International League with a .322 batting average for Buffalo, while Double-A Akron’s Cabrera and Brown were named to the Eastern League all-star team. Brown led the EL with a .327 average through Monday, while Cabrera, who is now the Indians’ starting second baseman, was among the league leaders in three offensive categories when he was promoted to Buffalo.
Class A Lake County is making a push for the playoffs, entering Tuesday with eight wins in 10 games. The Captains trailed first-place Hickory by 3½ games for the final playoff spot in the South Atlantic’s Northern Division.

Roundin’ third

The combined ERA of Cleveland’s pitching staff (3.74) ranked third in the majors behind Toronto and Boston through Monday. Indians starters ranked seventh in the American League with a 4.36 ERA.
Grady Sizemore was a guest on Jim Rome’s radio show Tuesday.
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7137 or cassenheimer@chroniclet.com.