Choo grows into cleanup presence

Choo grows into cleanup presence

CLEVELAND -- Travis Hafner has returned to the Indians' lineup, but he hasn't bumped Shin-Soo Choo out of the cleanup spot.

That spot is now Choo's to lose. He'll remain at No. 4 when the Indians venture back out on the road and open up a three-game set against the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field on Tuesday.

"I don't see any point in changing things now," manager Eric Wedge said.

How could he? Choo has really come on strong of late. He entered the week in the midst of a 50-game stretch in which he batted .323 (60-for-186) with eight doubles, nine homers and 39 RBIs, raising his average from .264 to .301.

"He's really done a fantastic job in the [cleanup] role," Wedge said of Choo. "He's a fantastic run producer for us, and he's helped protect [No. 3 hitter] Victor [Martinez]."

Of course, Choo was quite the run producer last year, too. So what's been impressive about Choo in 2009 are the strides he's made in other areas of his game.

For one, Choo has become a bona-fide basestealing threat. Though he certainly displayed this ability in the Minors -- he stole 40 bases in 48 chances at the Double-A level in the Mariners' organization -- he had yet to take it to the big league stage with any consistency until this season. He entered the week a perfect 13-for-13 in stolen-base attempts.

"I'm getting better jumps this year," Choo said. "And they're giving me more chances to steal. They're giving me the signs more often."

Wedge has developed more trust in Choo in those situations.

"He's an explosive athlete," Wedge said. "His feel and his jumps have been better. It's a combination of him getting more comfortable and making good decisions."

On the defensive side, opposing baserunners have made some bad decisions in attempting to run on Choo. He entered the week tied for first in the American League in outfield assists, with eight.

"Throwing out a runner," Choo said, "is the best part of playing defense."

So why run on Choo at this point?

"I guess he's still something of an unknown," Wedge said. "But he has as good an arm as anybody out there."

The arm and the legs only add to the package that Choo brings to the table. And he'll keep bringing it to the heart of the Tribe's batting order.

Pitching matchup
CLE: LHP Jeremy Sowers (2-6, 5.68 ERA)
After a strong seven innings against the Reds on June 26, Sowers took a step back in a loss to the White Sox on Wednesday. He was strong for four scoreless innings before the outing began to get away from him in the fifth. He went on to give up five runs on 11 hits with a walk and two strikeouts in six innings. Sowers has had trouble staying aggressive and staying effective against a lineup when he faces hitters a third time through the order.

CWS: LHP Mark Buehrle (8-2, 3.09 ERA)
It was vintage Buehrle on display last Thursday night in Kansas City, with the southpaw giving up one run on six hits over 8 1/3 innings,as he won for the 20th time in his career against the Royals and picked up career win No. 130 overall. Buehrle took a shutout into the ninth, striking out one and not issuing a walk. He was also extremely efficient, never throwing more than 15 pitches in an inning and going to a three-ball count just once. Buehrle will come back Tuesday on normal rest, factoring in Monday's off-day, meaning he gets two more starts before the All-Star break instead of one. Buehrle has a 9-13 career record against the Indians but a 72-41 mark at U.S. Cellular Field.

Tidbits
General manager Mark Shapiro said the economy and the number of teams still in contention make it difficult to assess the summer trade market, but the Indians continue to engage in active discussions. "Clearly, we are looking to add young pitching," Shapiro said. ... Right-hander Hector Rondon, one of the top arms in the Indians' system, has been promoted to Triple-A Columbus. Rondon was 7-5 with a 2.75 ERA at Double-A Akron. His ERA was the fifth-best in the Eastern League, and he was tied for fifth in the league with 73 strikeouts in just 72 innings. ... All-Star Victor Martinez is batting .087 over his last 13 games.

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Up next
• Wednesday: Indians (Aaron Laffey, 3-1, 3.93) at White Sox (Jose Contreras, 3-7, 4.84), 8:11 p.m. ET
• Thursday: Indians (David Huff, 4-3, 6.06) at White Sox (Clayton Richard, 3-1, 4.48), 2:05 p.m. ET
• Friday: Indians (Carl Pavano, 7-7, 5.36) at Tigers (TBD), 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.