Two Indians take steps in right direction

Two Indians take steps in right direction

BALTIMORE -- One guy is listed at 180 pounds, the other at 240.

They might not exactly be twins, but Indians left-hander Jeremy Sowers and designated hitter Travis Hafner do have this much in common: They're both trying to find their 2006 form.

One game won't do it, but it's a step. And Sowers and Hafner each took a big one Tuesday night in the Tribe's 6-1 victory over the Orioles at Camden Yards. Sowers turned in his strongest start of the season, and Hafner, out of the lineup since way back on May 25, made what felt like his first start of the season.

Sowers' eight strong innings, during which he allowed just a run on four hits with a walk and a season-high seven strikeouts, made the biggest impact. This was the type of outing Sowers would routinely turn in during the second half of his rookie season in '06, and it's the type of outing that's generally eluded him the last two years.

"I don't think it matters how I was pitching before," Sowers said. "When you pitch well, you're happy about it."

Sowers (3-8, 5.60 ERA) had plenty to be happy about on this night. He had consistent command of his fastball, didn't get burned his second or third time through the lineup -- as has often been a problem -- and also worked in his changeup effectively.

"That's the way you want to see Jeremy pitch," manager Eric Wedge said. "He did a good job getting strike one. When you do that, you talk about commanding the baseball game and controlling the baseball game, and that's what he did."

The Indians were in control of this one from the outset, and they had Pronk, in part, to thank.

Facing right-hander Radhames Liz, the Indians got a first-inning run on Jhonny Peralta's RBI single. Hafner's first at-bat in his return from right shoulder weakness saw him notch a single, and Kelly Shoppach loaded the bases with a walk, but the inning died out after that.

In the third, however, the Indians scored again when Peralta reached on an error, Hafner singled again and Michael Aubrey came through with a bloop RBI single to center to make it 2-0.

Though his hits were hardly the type of impactful blasts he would turn in routinely in 2006 -- and, for that matter, during two playoff games with Double-A Akron during his rehab stint last week -- Hafner was encouraged by his early output.

"Everything went great," he said of his return. "I feel really good at the plate, and I feel I can compete throughout the game."

The Indians' offense kept pouring on the runs throughout this game, but never all at once. They scored once in the fourth on David Dellucci's RBI triple, once in the fifth on Andy Marte's RBI double, once in the seventh on Asdrubal Cabrera's sacrifice fly and once in the eighth on Kelly Shoppach's RBI double after Hafner was intentionally walked by reliever Rocky Cherry.

"We scored one run at a time, and we left 13 [runners] on," Wedge said with a smirk. "It's a lot harder to score when you don't hit home runs."

The Indians haven't homered in their last six games, and that's a season-high drought. But on this night, they had Sowers to deliver the knockout punch.

Sowers only seemed to get stronger as his outing wore on. After giving up a leadoff double to Luke Scott in the fifth, he retired nine in a row. And when Oscar Salazar broke up that stretch with an eighth-inning double, Sowers got Brian Roberts to hit into an inning-ending double play.

It added up to Sowers' longest start since a July 27 no-decision against the Twins, when he also went eight innings.

"I think that's a product of command," he said. "When you do what you want with your pitches, you can work deeper into the games. The second or third time through the order, you're going to get tired and leave the ball up. I was able to keep the ball down and make pitches when I needed to."

One pitch the Indians have wanted Sowers to work on is his changeup. He had gotten into the habit of throwing it too hard, and the lack of differentiation in speeds between that pitch and his changeup was hurting him.

In this start, he said he only used the changeup roughly eight to 10 times, but it proved to be an effective pitch each time.

"Maybe we used it in better situations," he said. "When we threw it, I was able to make the pitch, and it worked out well."

This season hasn't worked out the way Sowers or Hafner wanted. But this win was a step in the right direction, and that's all they could ask for.

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.