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Published: Thursday, 5/15/2008

Hafner refocuses on pitch release

BY JOE VARDON
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
ASSOCIATED PRESS

CLEVELAND - The Indians are trying to help Travis Hafner "see the ball better."

And no, that doesn't mean they're buying him glasses.

Hafner, Cleveland's designated hitter who signed a four-year, $57 million contract extension last year, entered last night's game batting .223 with three home runs and 18 RBIs.

To rectify his woes, he said he's working daily to see the ball better, which is baseball slang for being able to track each pitch from the pitcher's hand.

"I'm just trying to get back to doing the stuff I used to do," said Hafner, who hit 42 homers in 2006 and 33 in 2005, but only hit 24 last year and saw his average drop from .308 in 2006 to .267 in 2007.

"I obviously want to see the ball as well as I can. Sometimes it's kind of taken for granted, but seeing the ball well slows [the pitch] down."

Cleveland hitting coach Derek Shelton wouldn't disclose what adjustments the Indians are havng Hafner make, but said they want him to be in a "balanced, strong position from the time the ball is released until he makes contact."

Shelton also said Hafner is showing improvement. He went 5-for-15 with two doubles in the first five games of the Indians' current seven-game homestand, and had two hits and an RBI in Tuesday's 4-0 win over Oakland.

With interleague play this weekend, Indians manager Eric Wedge said Hafner may play first base. Wedge said it depends partially on Hafner's sore right elbow.

As for Hafner's absent power, Wedge said it will return as Hafner's mechanics improve.

"He's too strong, too good, and been exposed to too much not to have it happen," Wedge said.

WARMING UP: Wedge said closer Joe Borowski (strained right triceps) threw a bullpen session without trouble yesterday. He will pitch a simulated game tomorrow.

Borowski, 0-2 with an 18.00 ERA in five games this year, has been on the disabled list since April 15. He went on the DL after blowing a save against Boston April 14.

There were whispers that Borowski, 37, who led the American League with 45 saves last year, might have reached the end of the line. His velocity was noticeably less during spring training and into the season.

Borowski said his time away from pitching has been difficult, made tougher by the ample time to wonder if he'll ever return to the mound.

"I wish someone had a blueprint for how to get through this," Borowski said. "There's no 'this is what you do to get through it.' You doubt yourself all the time. It's human nature.

"I've gone through this before, and I'm going to persevere. I have no doubts I'm going to come through this fine."

BATTING PRACTICE: Pitchers Cliff Lee, Paul Byrd, and Fausto Carmona took batting practice yesterday.

Lee and Carmona are two of the Indians' scheduled starters for this weekend's series against Cincinnati. Jeremy Sowers is the other.

Lee is 10-1 with a 3.49 ERA in interleague games, and he holds the best winning percentage (.909) in the history of interleague play.

Contact Joe Vardon at:

jvardon@theblade.com

or 419-410-5055.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Tampa Bay left-hander Scott Kazmir agreed to a $28.5 million, three-year extension yesterday through 2011, a deal with a club option that could raise the contract's value to $39.5 million over four seasons.

The 2007 AL strikeout champion is 36-30 with a 3.63 ERA in 100 major league appearances, including 99 starts. He began this season on the 15-day disabled list after straining his left elbow, but returned to the rotation on May 4.



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