March 20, 2009
I'm out at the Indians' sparkling new complex in Goodyear for my final day of Cactus League action and the upcoming game with the A's features a few good storylines. Aging Carl Pavano takes the mound for the Tribe, while 21-year-old Brett Anderson gets the nod for Oakland and tries to make it even harder for the A's to send him back to the minors. The left-handed prospect has a 1.86 ERA through four starts this spring.
Despite that pitching matchup and the prospect of seeing Kerry Wood in an Indians uniform (my eyes!), I'm most interested in seeing what Travis Hafner does at the plate. Coming off an injury-plagued 2008 that limited him to just five homers in 57 games, Pronk is trying to work his way back into the front of every baseball fan's mind as one of MLB's most dangerous hitters.
Whether or not the 31-year-old fully recovers from that shoulder injury remains to be seen, but so far he's hitting just 4-for-22 (.182) in eight games this spring and has played back-to-back games on only two occasions. Worse yet, it took Hafner until St. Patrick's Day to drive a ball to the outfield with any semblance of warning-track power.
But according to the Indians, everything is still on track with Hafner.
"We've stretched him out," said manager Eric Wedge. "Now, we'll start playing him on consecutive days. It's going to take some time for his timing to come back. The only way to do that is give him the repetition he needs." ....
"Because of his shoulder last year, he got himself into some bad habits fundamentally," said (hitting coach Derek) Shelton. "He got in those habits because he didn't have shoulder strength.
"We're working to get back to those strong muscle-memory habits that he had. The foremost thing now is he needs reps. I'm not concerned on March 16 what he does within those at-bats. The results are not important."
Wait, the results aren't important?
Well, maybe not on March 20, but if Hafner isn't showing off some of his old stroke by the time the Tribe packs up camp and heads back to Cleveland, it'll be time for some revisions from everyone who's predicting the Indians will win the AL Central.
(And the fact that so many people ARE picking the Indians despite their offense hinging on a rebounding DH should tell you something about the division.)
Not to mention that there's no way I'm drafting anyone for my fantasy team when we're talking about things like "muscle-memory" and "bad habits."
But, yeah, there are two weeks of spring training left, so Hafner still has some time to show that he's healed from that shoulder. But it's time for him to get going.
And preferably today, while I'm here.