CLEVELAND — Despite missing over a month after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right knee, designated hitter Travis Hafner is feeling comfortable at the plate.
Hafner was activated from the disabled list Wednesday, reaching base three times in his first game back, then hitting a home run in a 3-1 victory over the Rays in the series opener Thursday.
“I know the situation,” Hafner said. “I’ve been out for five weeks. I’m just trying to make everything as simple as possible get ready really early, see the ball as good as I can, and not try to do too much — just be really short to the ball.
“So far, that’s worked out well. I feel like I’ve been able to have a good at-bat every time and I’ve been in a pretty good rhythm so far.”
Hafner is not expected to play on a daily basis, as he tries to work his way back into midseason form, but the Indians are hoping his return provides a boost for their inconsistent offense. His presence alone has an effect, according to manager Manny Acta.
With Hafner on the shelf, the Indians were still able to stay in contention in the Central Division, entering Friday trailing first-place Chicago by two games. Hafner said he hasn’t been focused on the rest of his club’s division rivals.
“This is a game that you just need to worry about yourself,” said Hafner, who was hitting .245 with seven homers and 24 RBIs in 41 games through Thursday. “If some teams win 10 in a row or lose 10 in a row, it doesn’t matter. You have to go out and take care of business yourself. We still feel like we haven’t played our best ball. Guys are working hard and we’re in a pretty good rhythm right now. We just want to keep playing well and winning ballgames.”
Shelley Duncan returned from the paternity list a day after his wife Elyse gave birth to twin boys — Walker and William.
Duncan, who left the team when Hafner was activated from the disabled list, replaced infielder Jason Donald on the 25-man roster. Donald, who appeared in two games after replacing an injured Lonnie Chisenhall, was optioned back to Triple-A Columbus.
Duncan has homered in three of his last four games, but was not in the lineup Friday. He’s batting .231 with seven homers and 19 RBIs in 55 games.
Closer Chris Perez (0-1, 2.59 ERA, 24-of-25 save opportunities) and setup man Vinnie Pestano (3-0, 1.85, 39 strikeouts in 34 innings) are gaining recognition as one of the majors’ best late-inning combinations.
“That’s exactly what you want to hear,” Pestano said. “If guys aren’t saying that about you, then you’re in a tough spot. I try to go out there, try to do the best job I can do and keep the game close for Chris to slam the door in the ninth.
“It’s something we take pride in. When they hand the ball over to us and we’re in position to win the game, we want to make sure we nail it down.”
Pestano said the two complement each other well.
“(Perez) is so competitive out there. It fires me up,” he said. “When he’s going good and I’m going good, I like to think that we feed off each other.”
Second baseman Jason Kipnis and shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera entered Friday with 11 homers apiece, which accounted for the second-most in the majors by a middle-infield tandem behind the Yankees’ Robinson Cano (20) and Derek Jeter (7). … Indians legend Jim “Mudcat” Grant and Larry Doby Jr. threw out ceremonial first pitches. The Indians paid tribute to Doby Jr.’s father, an Indians Hall of Famer who broke the American League’s color barrier, with a postgame video tribute and by renaming a street — Eagle Ave. — outside Progressive Field, Larry Doby Way. … Tonight, 6:05, No television/WTAM 1100-AM. Jimenez (7-7, 4.59) vs. Moore (5-5, 4.17).
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.