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Published: Friday, 1/16/2009

Tribe star eager to swing a bat

ASSOCIATED PRESS

CLEVELAND - Never fashion conscious, Travis Hafner prefers to wear ratty T-shirts. One of his favorites says: "I'm not smart, but I can lift heavy things."

He can soon take it out of the bottom drawer.

The man known as Pronk is ready to help carry the Indians.

Hafner, Cleveland's hard-swinging designated hitter who spent most of last season on the disabled list with a weakened right shoulder, has recovered from offseason surgery to the point where he will begin a hitting program next week in Arizona - his first real cuts since late September.

"I'm champing at the bit," he said yesterday.

By all accounts, Hafner has put a disappointing 2008 season behind him. He spent 106 days on the DL and was limited to just 57 games. The 31-year-old was batting .217 through 46 games and hitting like a skinny shortstop when team physicians told him to shut it down. They were convinced he would get stronger with rest and rehabilitation.

But Hafner's shoulder never improved and he underwent a surgical "clean out" on Oct. 14, an arthroscopic procedure performed by famed orthopedist Dr. James Andrews.

"They cleaned a bunch of stuff out of where it had been causing pain in the shoulder," Hafner said. "It had caused the shoulder to shut down because it didn't want to do anything because it was being aggravated. They said it wouldn't have gotten better without the surgery. It just wasn't able to function properly.

"Now that everything has been cleaned out, it should be back to being a normal shoulder."

If it is, the Indians should be back to normal too.

They desperately missed Hafner. Without him, Cleveland's offense struggled to score and his absence had a lot to do with the Indians' slide from AL Central champions to third-place finishers.

He understands how much he was missed.

"I'm the guy expected to hit in the middle of the order, drive in 100 runs and be kind of a leader on offense," he said, "and if you miss that, then all of a sudden you're asking other people to do it and putting them in situations they aren't necessarily comfortable with or you're calling up young kids who are unproven.

"I know I'm a big part of the team, and if I'm playing well it makes us a better ballclub."

Hafner is happy with the progress in his shoulder. He has been working out up to 5 hours a day at Progressive Field, lifting weights and running on a treadmill. He has dropped 10 pounds since the end of the season, and credited his slimmer physique - he weighs about 250 - to an improved diet.

"The biggest thing is not eating at restaurants as much," he said. "We've been eating at home a lot and trying to do the low-fat stuff."

Hafner then paused.

"And maybe a couple beers here and there," he said, smiling.

When he returned from the DL in September, Hafner estimated he was at about 75 percent but his shoulder weakened as the season waned.

The Indians are counting on him being "right" now.

After Hafner batted .308 with 42 homers and 117 RBIs in 2006, the club signed him to a four-year, $57 million extension through 2012. His numbers dipped in '07 - .267, 24 and 100 - and although he was hurt last season, his drop-off has Cleveland fans wondering if he'll ever be the same.

Hafner isn't concerned.

"I don't see any reason why I can't be productive," he said.

In other news, Cleveland acquired minor league outfielder Mickey Hall from Boston to complete the trade that sent pitcher Paul Byrd to the Red Sox in August.

Hall batted .232 with 13 homers and 35 RBIs in 82 games last season for Boston's Double-A Portland affiliate. The 24-year-old was a second-round draft pick in 2003 by the Red Sox and has a .239 career batting average in the minors.



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