September 15, 2014

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Matt LaPorta returns to Tribe in style

CLEVELAND — Matt LaPorta took full advantage of the national spotlight to announce his return to the Cleveland Indians lineup Wednesday.

Laporta

Laporta

Just hours after coming off the 15-day disabled list (right ankle sprain), LaPorta showed a national ESPN audience why he was the cornerstone of the trade that sent 2007 Cy Young Award winner CC Sabathia to the Milwaukee Brewers three years ago today. He went 2-for-4 with singles in his first two at-bats in the Indians’ 5-3 win over the New York Yankees.

LaPorta, who was receiving treatment on his ankle after the game and was unavailable for comment, also made a pair of fine defensive plays, one diving to his left to snare a shot by Nick Swisher that looked destined to be a double down the right-field line in the second inning to preserve Cleveland’s 2-0 lead.

“When the defense makes plays like that it gives me extra confidence to just go out there and pitch,” said Justin Masterson, who pitched eight shutout innings to earn his seventh win of the year.

For LaPorta, the injury gave him a chance at a new beginning. Prior to turning his ankle while getting caught in a rundown in a June 17 game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, he was mired in a 17-for-85 slump over his previous 25 games.

“This is a really important year for (LaPorta) for his development,” manager Manny Acta said. “We need him to stay healthy and continue to learn and improve.”

Since making his major league debut, LaPorta has yet to live up to the hype that came along with being one of the top prospects in all of baseball and being selected with the No. 7 pick in the first round by the Brewers in the 2007 draft. He was also a member of the 2008 U.S. Olympic team that brought home the bronze medal from Beijing.

Over his first three seasons, LaPorta’s career average is just .234. His home run numbers have increased from two in 52 games his rookie season to 12 in 110 games in 2010. So far this season he has hit eight homers in 60 games.

If he’s to ever claim his place among the elite first basemen in the American League, however, his home run output likely needs to double. After hitting .254 in 2009, he slipped to .221 last season. He is hitting .248 this season.

Even after his early season struggles, LaPorta ranks ninth among American League first basemen in batting average and RBIs (31).

One thing LaPorta has done well in his career is hit against the Yankees. He had the highest career average (.303) against New York of any Indian in Wednesday’s starting lineup. Earlier this season, he had a two-hit, two-RBI game in an 11-7 loss at Yankee Stadium.

“He’s definitely an important bat to have back in the lineup,” Acta said. “He’s been up and down this year but he’s always a threat every time he steps up to the plate.”

Contact Todd Shapiro at 329-7135 or ctsports@chroniclet.com.