Hafner injury an opportunity for some

Hafner's absence opens up at-bats

SEATTLE -- With key hitters Victor Martinez and Travis Hafner out with injuries, the Indians' lineup is seeing a heavy dose of inexperienced youth on most days.

Shin-Soo Choo, Franklin Gutierrez, Asdrubal Cabrera and Ben Francisco are all either 26 years old or younger, and none of them has had a continuous full season in their Major League careers.

Choo, Gutierrez and Francisco have all spent time in the outfield with center fielder Grady Sizemore, while Cabrera has been playing second base while also spending some time in the Minor Leagues.

A byproduct of the other injuries on the team, particularly the one to Hafner, is that these young prospects can get their Major League at-bats because manager Eric Wedge has the designated hitter spot open.

"It helps us having the DH spot," Wedge said. "I mean, don't get me wrong, I wanted Hafner back yesterday. But what it does, it allows us to give these guys playing time because we can work in and out of that DH spot."

That luxury came into play Saturday, when Choo, Francisco and Gutierrez started in the outfield while Sizemore occupied the DH spot.

The results have been mixed.

Choo has been having success lately -- including a homer and two doubles on Saturday -- as he works his way back from a right elbow injury and tries to show he can be an everyday player. And Wedge said Gutierrez, who hit two doubles Saturday, will get more playing time as he tries to raise his .219 batting average.

It's actually been the rookie Francisco who has shown the most consistency this season among the four young hitters, posting a .291 average with eight homers.

"He hunts the baseball. He goes up there ready to hit," Wedge said. "He's not afraid to take risks, he's not afraid to look bad and there's a lot to be said for that."

He's also shown an ability to take some walks, and his on-base percentage is a respectable .351.

While the young guns show promise and get their hacks at the plate, Hafner's return means the playing time might not come so frequently.

"It will definitely be tougher when [Hafner] comes back," Wedge said. "So hopefully, we make some progress, work down the road mentally with some of these guys by then."

Jesse Baumgartner is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.