CLEVELAND -- Travis Hafner took a long-awaited trip back to Pronkville on Thursday. About 20 swings into his first on-field hitting session since he went on the disabled list May 30, Hafner launched a pitch into the second-level mezzanine seats in right field, aptly named for the Tribe's slugging, but currently rehabbing, designated hitter. That was enough for Hafner, who dropped his bat and had a message for hitting coach Derek Shelton.
"I'm good," Hafner said. "I'm ready to be activated." Not so fast, Pronk. The rehabbing of his sore right shoulder won't be over for a while, but Thursday's hitting session was, obviously, a big step toward coming back before the 2008 season comes to a close. "It was nice to get back out there and start feeling like a baseball player again," Hafner said. "I'd say I was a professional rehabber for a while, so it's good to get out here and do what you enjoy doing." If there are no setbacks along the way, Hafner, who will have his strength re-evaluated Friday before another hitting session Saturday, should be sent out on a rehab assignment some time next week. "It'd just be good to get back out there, feel strong, get some at-bats and get some momentum going into the offseason," said Hafner, who was hitting just .217 with four homers and 22 RBIs before he was shelved. Hafner said he didn't feel any weakness in the shoulder after Thursday's session -- a far cry from the constant, and somewhat puzzling pain he felt during the early portion of his now 76-day stint on the DL. "It felt dead all the time," he said. "Now, it feels strong and when you pick up a bat, you want to hit." Hafner said he had felt pain in his shoulder now and then throughout the early part of the season, but it didn't become unbearable until he was put on the DL. After a few weeks off, Pronk's prognosis hadn't improved. In fact, it got a little worse. "I wasn't able to raise my arm or really do anything," he said. As Hafner started to make progress in his strength training, he was dealt with an even bigger setback when his father, Terry, passed away after a long battle with cancer. "Dealing with my dad's death was probably the toughest thing I had to go through," Hafner said. "It kind of just makes baseball seem pretty small in the grand scheme of things." But now, as Hafner continues to recover both mentally and physically, getting back to baseball is priority No. 1. If and when Hafner returns this season, his sore shoulder will likely not be at 100 percent strength, which should be remedied, Hafner said, by another month of offseason lifting programs. He's going to have to stay on top of it and make it part of his program," manager Erid Wedge said. "He's worked so hard to build that strength back up, the last thing you want to do is let it work its way in the other direction."
Andrew Gribble is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.