GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Travis Hafner and Matt LaPorta have experienced much different spring training camps, but similar positive production is what the Indians require of the duo this season.
Despite no guarantees in either case, the Indians are counting on the pair of projected sluggers to play a major part in their power game, with few other home run hitters employed in a youth-laden lineup.
Hafner, who hasn’t been the same feared weapon he was when he hit 32 homers and drove in 109 runs per season from 2004-07, has hit for average during the exhibition season, but has shown little pop.
Before going 0-for-5 Sunday in the Indians’ 6-1 victory over the Dodgers in Glendale, Ariz., the designated hitter slated to bat fifth behind Carlos Santana was batting .313 (15-for-48) in 16 games. But he has hit just one homer with seven RBIs and a .396 slugging percentage.
Shoulder injuries have sapped Hafner’s power over the past three seasons, but the chronic ailment nor his light-hitting exhibition effort has lessened the expectations of it returning in 2011 for both him and manager Manny Acta.
“If I’m hitting for a high average the power will come, and certainly the RBI numbers will be up,” said Hafner, who with the shoulder still plaguing him a bit last year hit .278 with 13 homers and 50 RBIs in 118 games. “I’m just trying to get back to the hitter I used to be.”
“I’m not worried about Hafner,” said Acta, whose team finished near the bottom of the power-packed American League last year with 128 homers and a .378 slugging percentage. “I think if he stays healthy, I think you can expect him to hit 25 home runs and drive in 90 to 100 runs. He has to be out there. That’s the main thing.”
Unlike recent years, Acta said there would be no limitations for Hafner, who will be in the lineup on an everyday basis, provided he can handle as much.
“Everything’s good. I was able to have a good offseason,” said Hafner, who spent the winter working with Cleveland hitting instructor Jon Nunnally. “Hopefully everything is going well and (the shoulder) won’t be an issue. It’s something we won’t be able to know until we get into the season.”
This is a big season as well for LaPorta, a highly touted slugger who hasn’t lived up to advanced billing after being acquired as the key piece to the CC Sabathia trade with Milwaukee. In 162 games over the past two seasons, LaPorta, 26, has hit 19 homers and driven in 62 runs.
The power numbers for LaPorta have been respectable this spring — four doubles, a triple, two homers and 10 RBIs in 18 games — but his batting average slipped to .148 (8-for-54) after going 0-for-5 with three strikeouts Sunday.
LaPorta, who came to camp last year following offseason surgery on his hip and toe, isn’t concerned with the measly average, and neither is his manager.
“I expect to go out and help this team win,” said LaPorta, who doesn’t have Russell Branyan waiting in the wings this season. “I expect to contribute and do my job.”
“He has spent the whole spring working on things,” Acta said in explaining LaPorta’s low average. “He knows he’s got a spot on the team. It’s a lot easier when you know that, to use spring training to work on things and get ready for the season.”
The Indians are expecting LaPorta and Hafner being more than ready once the regular season convenes Friday at Progressive Field — the power department is counting on as much.
Acta has marveled at Grady Sizemore’s recovery from microfracture surgery on his left knee.
Sizemore, who predicted he will be back before May, played five innings in center field Saturday night, going 1-for-3 with a double. He displayed his normal reckless abandon in center, diving for a ball and running into the wall on another occasion.
“I feel good about (him),” Acta said. “It’s amazing, modern medicine. We got to spring training, and this guy wasn’t even jogging. He’s already played five innings in a game and he’s running around in the outfield and running on the bases. He’s really worked hard.”
Sizemore has played in the field twice in three exhibition games, going 1-for-7 at the plate over the span.
Acta said he expected to make the final decisions of camp today, choosing three pitchers for the bullpen, a utility infielder and backup catcher.
With Joe Smith (strained abdominal) set to begin the season on the disabled list, right-handers Frank Herrmann (0-0, 1.86 ERA in nine games), Justin Germano (0-0, 0.00 in seven games), Jess Todd (0-0, 1.17 in seven games) and Vinnie Pestano (0-1, 1.17 in eight games) are vying for the final three spots in the bullpen.
Adam Everett (.308, two RBIs in 19 games), Luis Valbuena (.260, four homers, nine RBIs in 21 games) and Jayson Nix (.176, one homer, two RBIs in 12 games) are in the race for the utility infielder job, while Lou Marson (.143, three RBIs in 15 games) Paul Phillips (.414, one homer, four RBIs in 12 games) and Luke Carlin (.150, one homer, one RBI in 12 games) are in the mix to back up Santana.
- Today, 4:05 vs. Cubs at Goodyear Ballpark, WTAM 1100-AM (delayed 7 p.m.). Carlos Carrasco (0-2, 7.56) vs. Carlos Zambrano (0-1, 4.08).
- Drew Pomeranz, the Indians’ first-round draft pick (fifth overall) last year, was impressive Sunday in a Double-A game against the Reds in Goodyear. The 22-year-old left-hander allowed a run on two hits, while striking out nine over four innings.
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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