November 21, 2014

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Commentary: Russell Branyan starting to find his swing

This and that from the land of the Wahoos:

Don’t look now, but Russell Branyan appears to have located his power stroke. The Russ Bus hit three home runs in two games last week after failing to go deep since returning from the disabled list.

It’s a positive sign for the Indians, who rank near the bottom of the majors in homers and slugging percentage. Branyan looked like the Russ Bust for a while, and he may still wind up being a bad signing, but at least he showed that some of the thunder in his lumber still exists.

If he stays healthy, and that’s a sizable if, Branyan could hit close to 30 homers, maybe more. He proved as much with Seattle last year. Of course, he could also go back to the strikeout king he’s been for the majority of his career and hit far fewer than that lofty total. And he could blow out his back tomorrow. Take your pick.

Powerless Pronk

Maybe some of Branyan’s power will rub off on the club’s former cleanup hitter, Travis Hafner, who has just three homers. If Pronk keeps up this pace, he will clout a grand total of 12 this season, quite an accomplishment for a guy that used to hit 30-plus a year.

There are plenty of theories as to why Hafner’s power has vanished, but it’s clear he isn’t the same slugger he once was. It’s high time to tear down the Pronkville banner in the upper deck in right field at Progressive Field. The man it’s named after hasn’t visited in ages.

Hello, again

Don’t want to jinx Fausto Carmona, but is he back to his 2007 form?

He’s certainly a lot closer to it than he was the past two seasons. Carmona is still walking too many hitters, but the right-hander’s performance – 4-1 with a 3.43 ERA over his first seven starts – has been one of the few highlights for the Indians, who have been crossing their fingers where Carmona is concerned since he took the mound during the first week of the season.

When he’s pitching like he did in ‘07, Carmona is a top-shelf starter, and he’s getting closer and closer to the good old days. There’s plenty of time for the 26-year-old Carmona to figure it out, and he appears to be headed in that direction.

Stealing money

Is there a man more fortunate to be without minor league options than Rafael Perez?

The left-hander would’ve been at Triple-A Columbus in a heartbeat instead of Joe Smith and Jensen Lewis, but because the Indians don’t want to risk putting the struggling reliever on waivers and having him claimed (as if), he remains a sore spot in the Cleveland bullpen. Perez is still the one-pitch pitcher he was last year, and the nasty slider that worked so well for him from 2007-08 isn’t working anymore.

Hitters are laying off the pitch that usually winds up a ball, and feasting when he has to throw a fastball for a strike. It’s a theme that has applied the past two seasons and the classic case of a pitcher failing to adjust to the hitters.

Jake take

Hats off to Jake Westbrook for notching his first victory since early in the 2008 season.

Westbrook, who has been working his way back from Tommy John surgery, appears to have survived the career-threatening procedure, and that’s a feel-good story for one of the classier individuals in the game. Westbrook is no ace, as he was designated at the start of the season for what looked to be a rotation-challenged club, but until his injury, he was an overachiever who worked his way into an above-average big league starter. What’s remained constant is Westbrook’s character.

Bully for him?

This starting stuff hasn’t worked out very well for Justin Masterson.

The right-hander has just one win in 17 starts since joining the rotation last year after arriving in a trade with Boston. Part of it is a lack of run support – at least it was last season – but Masterson just might be better-suited for the bullpen, where he spent the majority of his career with the Red Sox. He’s been labeled a one-pitch pitcher and has notoriously struggled against left-handed hitters, and that’s almost always a disastrous combination for a starter.

Going down

It’s time to send Luis Valbuena and Matt LaPorta to Triple-A Columbus.

The pair of young players has struggled all season and neither looks as though he’s coming out of the funk anytime soon. Bring Michael Brantley back and promote infielder Jason Donald, and let’s see what they can do. It certainly can’t hurt in the offensive production department, since the Indians are getting next to nothing from the less-than-dynamic duo.

The most distressing development is LaPorta’s failure. The key cog in the CC Sabathia trade was supposed to be a budding offensive weapon with power, and he’s looked anything but in two extended stays with the Indians.

C’mon already

Speaking of bringing guys up, when is mega-prospect Carlos Santana going to get his promotion papers?

I can appreciate the Indians feeling that Santana needed some Triple-A seasoning before being called up to the majors. He’s had his month. Santana is going to be in an Indians uniform at some point this season, and now seems as good a time as ever, with Lou Marson still scuffling at the plate and only keeping the seat warm for the projected big league star.

Parting shot

If anyone sees three-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glove award winner Grady Sizemore, could they inform him that the season has begun?

Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136

or cassenheimer@chronicle.com.