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Published: Thursday, 3/4/2010

Indians' Hafner just wants to stay healthy

ASSOCIATED PRESS

GOODYEAR, Ariz. - Travis Hafner isn't asking for much.

The Cleveland Indians designated hitter only hopes his balky right shoulder stays strong enough for him to stay in the lineup.

The last two seasons haven't produced many high notes for the team or its slugger. After coming within one win of reaching the World Series in 2007, the Indians never contended in 2008 and followed that with 97 losses last season. Hafner, one of baseball's most feared power hitters a few seasons ago, has struggled to remain on the field.

"It's been frustrating," he said. "The team hasn't played well. Hitting is what I do. To not be able to do that at the level you want has been tough."

So Hafner's goal for now is simple. Any talk of numbers means nothing if his shoulder doesn't cooperate.

"I want to stay as healthy as I can," he said. "That's a big deal. If you're not healthy, there's really nothing else you can do."

Manager Manny Acta is in his first year on the job, but he knows how important Hafner is to the Indians' success.

"He's key to us," Acta said. "If he stays healthy, I think he's going to have a very good year."

That is not a sure thing for a player who has appeared in a total of 151 games the past two seasons. Hafner played in 57 games and hit .197 with five homers and 24 RBIs in 2008, and then had surgery after the season. Hafner's numbers improved last season - .272 with 16 homers and 49 RBIs - but he was on the disabled list for more than a month and played in 94 games.

Hafner averaged 34 homers and 111 RBIs from 2004-06. His '06 season was the best of his career as he batted .308 with 42 homers and 117 RBIs despite his season ending on Sept. 1 because of a broken hand.

"Travis doesn't have to be the 2006 Travis," Acta said. "That was an unbelievable year. We'll take a normal Travis - the 30 [home runs] and 110 [RBIs]. It doesn't have to be 43 or 45 and 140."

A normal offseason routine, which has led to a regular spring training workload, gave Hafner reason to be optimistic.

"I was able to get some rest after the season ended," he said. "I swung the bat quite a bit. I feel like everything is ready to go. Last year I started when I got to spring training. I was hitting off a tee. I've been able to swing the bat since December. I'm in a lot better spot and I'm further ahead than I was last year."

Acta watched several Indians games on television after being fired by the Washington Nationals last season.

"I saw a guy who wasn't 100 percent healthy," Acta said. "He probably was favoring his shoulder. I could tell from day one here swinging the bat that he looks so much better. He's able to drive the ball to the opposite field."

Hafner's contract is another sticky situation for the cost-conscious Indians. He has three years and $37.5 million remaining on an extension he signed in 2007. The injuries and drop in production have made him a target of media and fan criticism.

"It's a distraction," he said. "Other people's opinions don't matter to me, good or bad. Pressure is what you put on yourself. That's the only way I can describe it."

A dry sense of humor has helped Hafner get through the tough times. Acta batted his slow-footed cleanup hitter leadoff in yesterday's intrasquad game in which Hafner struck out and grounded out.

"I told Fausto Carmona [who pitched for the other team], if he walks me, it's a triple," Hafner said.



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