CLEVELAND -- The further Travis Hafner gets from his shoulder surgery, the better it will be for the Indians. Planning a few strategically placed days off for the designated hitter throughout the season certainly can't hurt, either.
That is what Indians manager Manny Acta foresees for Hafner during the 2011 campaign. Cleveland wants to get the most out of Hafner's bat and providing some rest days seemed to help his production last season.
"We're still going to monitor Travis," Acta said recently. "I think we saw last year that maybe here and there, giving him a day off against a lefty or something probably will help him out in the long run."
That might not seem like the most ideal situation for a player who once stood in the box as one of the game's most feared sluggers. On the other hand, it has become the reality for Hafner, who has dealt with chronic right shoulder woes over the course of the past three seasons with the Indians.
Since undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder after the 2008 season, Hafner has been shelved with soreness in the arm in each of the past two years. In 2010, his time on the disabled list was limited to roughly two weeks, but the shoulder remained an issue nonetheless.
Acta is well known for finding the positives within any situation, and the same holds true in Hafner's case. The manager is quick to point to how the 33-year-old DH performed in the season's second half in 2010. That alone is reason enough for Acta to express optimism about how Hafner will play in 2011.
"I really liked the way he swung the bat in the second half," Acta said.
Sure enough, Hafner hit at a .329 clip in the second half, launching five home runs and collecting 15 doubles and 21 RBIs over 44 games. Was it a return to the 2006 version of Pronk, the intimidating slugger who belted 42 homers and posted a 1.097 OPS? No, but it was an encouraging improvement.
Hafner -- under contract for $13 million in each of the next two seasons -- was limited to just 94 games in 2009 and he suited up in just 57 in 2008. Last season, he made it into the lineup for 118 games, marking his most for the Tribe since playing 152 games in '07. Overall, Hafner hit .278 with 13 homers and 50 RBIs in 2010.
After returning from the 15-day DL on Aug. 14, Hafner hit at a .302 clip. During that season-ending stretch, Acta used some days off to give the DH rest here and there. Hafner appeared in no more than five consecutive games over the final seven weeks. Acta might implement a similar plan this season.
For now, though, Acta takes comfort in reports he has received about Hafner's offseason workout regimen.
"He has increased the weight lifting and all that," Acta said. "It's an indication that he's feeling better."
When Hafner is not in the lineup, players such as Austin Kearns or Shelley Duncan (if he makes the Opening Day roster) could spell him as a right-handed option at DH. First baseman Matt LaPorta could potentially do the same on days when catcher Carlos Santana shifts to first.
As far as Cleveland's bench goes, the team has four available spots.
One spot is reserved for Kearns (a right-handed outfielder to help offset the all-left trio of Michael Brantley, Grady Sizemore and Shin-Soo Choo) and another will be set aside for the backup catcher. Lou Marson is the frontrunner for that job, though Luke Carlin and Paul Phillips will be in camp as competition.
The Indians have a variety of ways they could go with the final two bench jobs.
Depending on what happens with the starting roles at second and third base, players such as Jayson Nix, Jason Donald, Luis Valbuena, Adam Everett, Jack Hannahan, Jared Goedert or Cord Phelps could be in the mix as a backup infielder. Trevor Crowe, Travis Buck, Jordan Brown, Chad Huffman and Duncan could vie for a backup outfield job.
The jobs are entirely up for grabs. So much so, not even the Indians know right now who will head north with the club.
"There is a chance of everything in the world," Acta said.