June 26, 2016

Intermittent clouds

So far, so good … so Pronk: Hafner showing signs of old self

CLEVELAND – Travis Hafner doesn’t care about the opposing pitcher’s numbers. He doesn’t feel he needs to earn their respect, either.

Hafner just wants to be mechanically sound when he’s in the batter’s box and figures the rest of the intangibles will take care of themselves.

The return of Pronk continued in earnest Friday night at Progressive Field, as Hafner went 1-for-2 with a home run and a pair of RBIs during the Cleveland Indians’ 8-2 victory over the Baltimore Orioles.

“I feel like I’ve been swinging the bat really well,” the Indians designated hitter said.

“Now I just have to keep it going. I have to swing through the ball and keep trying to use the whole field. I’ve spent a lot of time working on my mechanics.”

Hafner was the latest in a long line of Indians power hitters – including guys like Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome – when he began playing for the big league club full time in 2004.

Hafner hit 28 home runs and finished with 109 RBIs that season. He followed with 33 homers and 108 RBIs in 2005, and 42 homers and 117 RBIs – both career highs – in 2006.

Then Hafner suffered a series of injuries to his right shoulder that landed him on the disabled list each of the past three seasons. His power numbers dropped, his overall numbers dropped and it was uncertain whether or not he would be able to return to the form that made him a fan favorite.

“So far he’s stayed healthy,” Indians manager Manny Acta said. “It’s nice to see him continue to hit well – especially the power, which was down last season because of the shoulder.

“We need the big boy if we want to continue to win.”

Hafner was asked if comments like that boost his perceived importance to the team or if they put extra pressure on him to perform.

“I guess I really don’t follow things like that,” he said. “I expect to do well. But the pressure’s not on just one or two guys. We have guys up and down the lineup that can drive in runs. I feel we have a team that will continue to do that all season.”

Hafner is batting .293 with three home runs – he didn’t hit his third homer last season until May 5 – a double and eight RBIs in 11 games. He’s a big reason the Indians are 9-4 and in first place in the American League’s Central Division.

“We’ve been playing really well in all phases,” he said. “We have a good group of veterans, and that definitely helps.”

Hafner also picked up his second intentional walk Friday night after having 10 all of last season. The first came with one out against the Mariners last weekend in a hope to set up a double play, but Friday night Baltimore’s Jeremy Accardo purposefully put Hafner on base with two outs in the seventh inning – a clear sign of respect.

“It’s never fun to be intentionally walked – I want to hit,” Hafner said.

The intentional walk came one inning after Hafner hit the first home run of the season off Baltimore’s Zach Britton, who entered the game with a 2-0 record and a 0.66 ERA. Britton left shortly after Hafner’s 400-foot blast with his first loss and a 2.75 ERA.

“I got a fastball away and I put a good swing on it,” Hafner said.

That’s all that matters.

Contact Shaun Bennett at 329-7137 or sbennett@chroniclet.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.