CLEVELAND – Travis Buck needed a confidence boost.
Just getting the nod from Cleveland manager Manny Acta for his first major league game as a designated hitter Saturday might have been enough. But Buck’s two-run home run in the seventh inning was the difference in the Indians’ 2-1 victory over the Cincinnati Reds and the seldom-used outfielder was all smiles after the game.
“It feels great,” Buck said. “It speaks volumes of what Manny really thinks of me and my ability. My first two (at-bats) … I hit a groundball weakly and a lazy flyball to left. After the second at-bat, Manny called me over and lit a fire under me a little bit.”
The pep talk worked wonders.
Buck sent the first pitch he saw from Homer Bailey in the seventh inning
392 feet into the left-field seats. It was Buck’s first home run since April 20, 2010, against the Yankees.
With the way Bailey was pitching – perfect through 32⁄3 innings – and with the wind blowing straight in from center field, Buck knew that a little luck was needed to get the ball out of the park.
“I knew that’s all I’ve got,” he said when asked if he knew the ball was gone when he hit it. “I crushed it and I knew the wind was knocking down a lot of balls today. Fortunately it was kind of on a line drive. If it was a little more in the air, it probably would have been caught on the warning track.”
The shot earned high praise from his manager.
“We continue to find a new hero on a daily basis, and today Travis Buck got the big hit with that two-run homer,” Acta said. “The guy’s always been talented. This is like his fifth year that he’s made an opening-day roster. Today was a typical example of what he can do.”
It’s been tough for Buck to prove his manager right. He saw limited time during the first few weeks of the season, then was sent down April 19 when Grady Sizemore made his return from the disabled list. He returned to the major league club May 16 when Sizemore made his second trip to the DL.
“We like (Buck), but unfortunately you can only keep 25 guys up here,” Acta said. “The reason we sent him down was because Grady came back and we already had a lot of left-handed outfielders.”
All but one of them to be exact. Sizemore, Shin-Soo Choo and Michael Brantley – the normal starters – are all left-handed, as is newly promoted Ezequiel Carerra. Only reserve Austin Kearns bats from the right side.
“I know it’s a numbers game,” said Buck, who has started 10 games in left field and one in center for the Tribe this season. “Whenever my name is in the lineup, I’m going to go out and try my best to help this team win.”
After seeing his career as Oakland’s starting center fielder derailed by injuries, Buck accepted a minor league contract with the Indians in December. He played well enough in spring training to earn a spot on the Indians’ opening-day roster – aided by the fact that Sizemore began the season on the DL.
Since his return, he’s been batting well. In his last six games as a starter, he’s hitting .391 with a home run, double and six RBIs.
A lot of that may be due to the way Buck handled being sent down to the Clippers.
“I wasn’t discouraged at all,” he said. “From Day 1, Manny and (general manager) Chris (Antonetti) told me how much they believed in me and my ability. I just needed a fresh start.
“Guys that get sent down can take it two ways – they can be really upset and struggle, or they can go down there and take care of business the same way they would up here and hopefully be the first call-up.”
The recent hot streak and the big hit Saturday are what Buck points to when he’s trying to explain what he can do and why the Indians have stood by him this year. He said the team’s support is one of the reasons he’s happy to have signed with the Indians as a free agent.
“Having a manager like Manny and the guys in the locker room that have your back and know what you can do, it’s going to bring out the best in yourself,” Buck said. “I haven’t had that before. I’m just fortunate to be in a great place where I feel I can have a great career.”
The outfielder is tired of the injuries and the bouncing back and forth to the minors. He and all the Indians fans are hoping that finally the Buck stops here.
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