Hafner feeling like old self at the plate

Hafner feeling like old self at plate

CLEVELAND -- Mark DeRosa snuck up behind Travis Hafner with a mischievous look in his eye, reached into Pronk's locker and pulled out that little piece of chocolate heaven.

Yes, a new shipment of Pronk Bars had arrived to the Indians' clubhouse, much to the delight of Hafner's teammates.

They've also delighted in the sweet-swinging Hafner's return to the middle of the order. Six months removed from right shoulder surgery, Pronk is looking more and more like the guy who inspired a candy bar in his honor.

When it comes to that candy bar, Hafner joked that he should keep a Pronk Bar in his back pocket when he comes to the plate, so he can pull it out and start munching on it on the bases after a hitting a double.

In reality, though, Hafner, having dropped somewhere between 10-20 pounds with a strict new diet, has to be careful not to overindulge in the sweet stuff.

"I still have one every once in a while," Hafner said with a smile, "but I don't crush two or three of them a day."

Hafner might not be crushing the candy like the Pronk of old, but he's shown signs of crushing the ball like his old self. He'll enter the weekend series with the Twins, which kicks off Friday night at Progressive Field, having hit safely in 10 of 12 games he's started and reached safely in 11 of those 12. Entering Thursday's game, in which he contributed a pinch-hit single in the eighth, Hafner was tied for 12th in the American League in home runs (four), tied for 14th in extra-base hits (eight) and was 17th in slugging percentage (.612).

"I've swung the bat well," he said. "Everything feels good, and it just keeps improving and getting better."

Pronk will be in the starting lineup Friday after riding the bench Thursday. The off-days are built into the schedule once or twice a week this season to keep him fresh after October shoulder surgery. While Hafner would obviously prefer to be in the lineup every day to stay in his routine, he understands the need to scale back in these early weeks of the 2009 season.

"It is what it is," he said. "Health-wise, I feel great. Everything's gone pretty well."

That includes Hafner's performance at the plate. Following a less-than-dynamic showing in the spring exhibitions, the Indians weren't really sure what to expect from Hafner at season's outset. And manager Eric Wedge drew criticism from fans and media for putting Pronk right back in the middle of the order, rather than having him bat in a lower-profile spot and work his way up.

But the Indians have seen plenty of positives from Hafner in the early going.

"We're pleased," hitting coach Derek Shelton said. "Everybody wanted to talk about the first four weeks of Spring Training, but we said, 'Let's focus on the last week and the regular season.' Until he can play every day, I think it's going to continue to be a progression. We're seeing a lot of good things from him."

And that includes the chocolate stash.

Pitching matchup
CLE: RHP Fausto Carmona (1-2, 7.88 ERA)
Staked to 14 runs of support in the second inning Saturday in New York, Carmona was able to use his start as a work day, of sorts. He got his work in by going six innings, allowing four runs on six hits with four walks and a strikeout. He induced 11 ground-ball outs, so that's a sign that he had good action on his sinking fastball. But the walks continue to be a concern. He's walked more (10) than he's struck out (eight) this season -- a trend that began last year. Carmona is 3-3 with a 3.83 ERA in 10 career appearances against the Twins. He gave up nine runs in just 2 1/3 innings in his lone start against them last year.

MIN: RHP Nick Blackburn (0-1, 5.71 ERA)
Blackburn managed to pitch into the seventh inning in his last start Friday, but once again, the Twins' offense couldn't produce early enough to get the right-hander a win. He allowed four runs on eight hits in 6 1/3 innings against the Angels, but it wasn't until a seven-run comeback in the eighth inning that the Twins pulled away. The club is 2-1 when Blackburn is on the hill and will hope to improve that record when the righty faces Cleveland at Progressive Field, where he is 1-0 with a 2.08 ERA in two career starts.

Tidbits
The Indians recorded their first series win of the season by taking two of three from the Royals to open this homestand. ... The Tribe notched its third come-from-behind victory of the season and its first win in a game it trailed after six innings. The Indians had been 0-8 when trailing after six. ... Grady Sizemore's six homers are tied for second in the AL, and five of his six homers have come with men on base. He's batting .344 with four homers and 12 RBIs over his past eight games. ... Kerry Wood recorded his third save of the season. He's struck out 11 batters in 5 1/3 innings of work thus far.

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Up next
• Saturday: Indians (Carl Pavano, 0-2, 9.69) vs. Twins (Kevin Slowey, 2-0, 5.89), 7:05 p.m. ET
• Sunday: Indians (Aaron Laffey, 1-0, 2.19) vs. Twins (TBD), 1:05 p.m. ET
• Monday: Indians (Cliff Lee, 1-3, 5.25) vs. Red Sox (Tim Wakefield, 2-1, 2.45), 7:05 p.m. ET

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