Hafner underwent an arthroscopic procedure to repair fraying in his medial meniscus on Thursday at the Cleveland Clinic. The Indians indicated that the expected timetable for a return to full baseball activities for Hafner will be four to six weeks.
"He failed conservative management," Indians head athletic trainer Lonnie Soloff said.
Cleveland placed Hafner on the 15-day disabled list prior to Wednesday's contest against Kansas City and recalled left-hander Scott Barnes from Triple-A Columbus. Barnes will slide into a relief role for the Tribe, which had been working with a short-handed six-man bullpen for the previous two games.
Hafner's stay on the DL is retroactive to last Thursday. If his recovery lasts the full six weeks, that lines up with the July 9-12 All-Star break, meaning Cleveland could wait until the start of the second half to activate the DH. One silver lining is that the Indians will play nine road Interleague games in June, when Hafner would have been reduced to a pinch-hitter role.
Hafner, who turns 35 on Sunday, had the right knee injury flare up during Cleveland's May 23 meeting with the Tigers. The DH fouled a pitch from Doug Fister off his right shin and was noticeably limping on the basepaths later in the game. Soloff said the foul ball was unrelated to the knee injury, but Hafner noted that is when the knee discomfort heightened.
"I don't know exactly what happened," Hafner said on Wednesday morning. "I fouled the ball off of the shin and my knee started hurting. I don't know specifics or exactly what happened."
As the roster currently stands, the Indians will likely use a rotation of players in the designated hitter role.
Options include right-handed hitters such as outfielder Shelley Duncan and third baseman Jose Lopez, while third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall and Johnny Damon offer left-handed alternatives. Catcher Carlos Santana (currently out after suffering a mild concussion) would likely see time as the DH as well once he is activated from the seven-day disabled list.
"Right now, unless we make a move," Indians manager Manny Acta said, "we can have guys rotate through it. We've got Lopey, we've got Duncan and we've got Damon here. That's something that we have the flexibility to do. That being said, we are going to miss the big guy. He's a presence in our lineup."
Acta said the club plans on using Thursday's off-day to go over some in-house options. The top two candidates for promotion from Triple-A Columbus would appear to be right-handed hitters Matt LaPorta and Russ Canzler, who can both play first base, left field and have experience in a DH role.
Through 44 games, LaPorta was hitting .304 with 13 home runs and 30 RBIs for the Clippers, but he was batting just .228 in May. LaPorta had a .321 average against left-handers. Canzler -- acquired in an offseason trade with Tampa Bay -- was hitting .266 with three homers and 15 RBIs through 49 games, with a .247 showing in May and a .246 mark against lefties.
"Everybody on the Triple-A roster is an option," Acta said.
It is possible that Cleveland could simply stick with the current group for the time being.
"Hey, we can't just throw our arms up," Acta said. "We have to move on and get on with it. Somebody needs to step up. More guys in the lineup need to do their thing."
After Hafner's injury worsened overnight on May 23, he was held out of the lineup and did not travel with the team for its recent weekend series in Chicago. Hafner received a cortisone shot on Thursday and used the weekend to rest his knee. On Monday, Hafner reported that he still felt pain while running.
Hafner took batting practice on the field on Tuesday in Cleveland, but the discomfort remained when he went through some running drills in the outfield.
"Hitting is good. Walking is good," Hafner said. "I just can't run. Running is really painful, so it's just a situation where I have to go get it taken care of and come back quick."
Soloff noted that Dr. Rick Parker -- the same surgeon who worked on Santana's right knee during the 2010 season -- will perform the upcoming procedure on Hafner.
"His feedback was, 'If I run on my toes, or if I alter how I run, I feel better,'" Soloff said. "I think at this point, we don't want Travis to compensate for discomfort and end up in a worse spot. So this is the prudent thing to do for him."
Through 39 games this season, Hafner has hit .242 with six home runs, six doubles and 23 RBIs for Cleveland. After hitting .357 with a 1.081 OPS over his first 12 games of the season, Hafner posted a .189 average with a .693 OPS over his next 27 games prior to the injury.
Hafner is under contract for $13 million this season and would become a free agent this winter if the Indians decline his club option as anticipated. Hafner would be owed a $2.75 million buyout under that scenario.
This marks the sixth stint on the disabled list for Hafner over the course of the past five seasons. Hafner has previously been shelved due to right shoulder issues (2008, '09 and '10), as well as right oblique and right foot injuries ('11).
Soloff did not believe this latest setback would have any lasting effects.
"It should be a relatively small procedure," Soloff said. "It won't have any long-term consequences."