July 25, 2014

Medina
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Hafner’s stroke is struggling

By CHRIS ASSENHEIMER
Staff Writer
CLEVELAND — The Indians survived a substandard 2007 season from Travis Hafner, and they’ve endured much of the same at the start of this year.
Though he says he feels different than he did last season, Hafner is producing similar results, entering the series opener with Seattle on Monday batting just .219 (21-for-96) with three home runs, 15 RBI and 26 strikeouts in 25 games.
“It’s just a matter of being consistent,” said Hafner, who entered Monday hitless in his last eight at-bats. “I’ve had some really good at-bats, and I’ve had some inconsistent at-bats.
“You feel like you’re building something, and then it doesn’t seem like I can build up to where I want to be. I’m pretty positive. I think it’s only a matter of time.”
Hafner believes he is on the verge of returning to the form he displayed from 2004-06, when he hit at least .305 with an average of 34.3 homers and 111.3 RBI. He slumped to .267 with 24 homers and 100 RBI in 152 games last year.
“I feel better this year,” Hafner said. “I’ve taken some swings where I really felt good. Last year, I didn’t really have that feel at all.”
Hafner has dealt with numerous injuries during his tenure in Cleveland, most recently early this spring training with a sore shoulder. But he said health hasn’t been a factor in the slide, and refuted an ESPN story that cited a big league scout claiming Hafner had lost bat speed.
“I feel as good physically now than I have at any time in my career,” he said. “My bat speed seems fine. I see the ball good. My swing feels good.”
Because he has the ability to raise the profile of the offense more than anyone in the lineup, Indians manager Eric Wedge has been patient with his designated hitter. But he is yearning for a bounce-back performance from Hafner, who hit .250 (4-for-16) in last year’s Division Series prior to batting just .148 (4-for-27) with 12 strikeouts in seven ALCS games.
“He hasn’t been his typical self for a while now,” Wedge said. “But we’ve seen spurts where we’ve seen what we’re accustomed to seeing.”
Though Hafner admits the slow start has been frustrating, he claims he hasn’t been taking his work home.
“You can’t really do that, ‘cause it’ll wear you down mentally,” Hafner said. “You can’t dwell on baseball 24-7.”
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GROUNDED GARKO: Another struggling Indians hitter, first baseman Ryan Garko, got the night off in the midst of an 0-for-23 skid at the plate. Garko was Cleveland’s only player to reach base safely in the team’s first 19 games, but has slumped to a .227 batting average (20-for-88). “He was arguably our most consistent hitter the first two weeks,” Wedge said. “He’s just been a little sloppy up there, trying to do too much. We’ll give him a mental break and a physical break and then go from there.” Casey Blake was at first and Andy Marte made his fourth start of the season at third, with Wedge unwilling to say that Garko would be back in the lineup tonight.
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POWER OUTAGE: Victor Martinez entered Tuesday leading the Indians with a .365 batting average (27-for-74), but was without a homer and had just four extra-base hits through 20 games. Martinez averaged 21 homers over his first four full seasons in the majors. “It’s not a concern for me,” Wedge said. “He’s always going to be a hitter first. As long as he’s doing that, the home runs will come.” The switch-hitting Martinez was batting .538 right-handed and .271 left-handed.
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ROUNDIN’ THIRD: According to Elias Sports Bureau, Monday’s Indians starter Aaron Laffey is the first pitcher to suffer a loss after taking a no-hitter at least five innings since Jon Lieber did the same for the Cubs in September of 1999. Lieber didn’t allow a hit through six innings. … Prized pitching prospect Adam Miller has not allowed a run in his first two starts (nine innings) for Triple-A Buffalo, as he works his way back from a spring training injury setback.
Assenheimer may be reached at cassenheimer@chroniclet.com or 440-329-7137.