CLEVELAND -- Travis Hafner might never again be the hitter he was in 2006. But if he's going to approach that standing, playing every day would certainly be a nice first step. Indians manager Manny Acta believes Hafner will be ready to take that step in 2010. Last season, the man known as Pronk played more than three days in a row just once. Now more than a year removed from arthroscopic right shoulder surgery, however, Hafner shouldn't have such limitations. "We're going to get together with our medical staff and the conditioning staff to put a plan in place," Acta said. "But that being said, our plan is that he's going to get days off here and there, but nothing as he was in the past, where he couldn't play a certain amount of games in a row."
Hafner was a shell of his former self in 2008, when the shoulder limited him to just 57 games played, and '09, when he played in just 94 games. Though the Indians have young, emerging talent in the likes Shin-Soo Choo, Asdrubal Cabrera and Matt LaPorta, having a veteran power bat in the middle of the order remains a must. Especially when you remember the Tribe still owes Hafner $11.5 million in 2010, $13 million in 2011 and $13 million in 2012. And don't forget that $2.75 million buyout if his 2013 club option isn't exercised. "We need this guy," Acta said. "This guy is a bat in the middle of our order. If he's fine, I'm looking to have him out there as many games as possible." Hafner, 32, is hoping more consistent playing time will help him get closer to the type of run production he provided in 2006, when he led the AL with a 1.097 OPS and drove in 117 runs in 129 games, or even '07, when his numbers took a tumble but he still managed to drive in 100 runs. The shoulder issue prevented Hafner from getting that playing time in 2009. He had entered the season with high hopes that the surgery had taken care of the matter, but he found himself on the disabled list by the end of April. "The way it was feeling in Spring Training, with the program I was on, I thought a couple months into the season I'd be able to play every day," Hafner said at season's end. "But in talking to a lot of different people who have had shoulder problems, it takes a year for it to heal up. It's something I just had to manage throughout the year. It wasn't a great scenario, but I was able to play three out of four games." When he played, Hafner did show some signs of returning to his old form. He hit .272 with an OPS of .825. That OPS ranked fifth among designated hitters with at least 200 plate appearances. "It was just the situation you're in," Hafner said, "so you've got to figure out a way to manage it the best you can and try to stay consistent." Still, those aren't the kind of numbers the Indians signed up for when they extended Pronk's contract midway through the '07 season. And with no ability to move Hafner and his contract to another club, the Tribe has to do everything in its power to get him back on track. One move that was made in that regard was the hiring of Jon Nunnally as Acta's hitting coach. Nunnally came highly recommended from the Indians' front office because of his work at Triple-A Columbus last season. And one of the primary people pulling for Nunnally to get the job on Acta's staff was Hafner, who worked with Nunnally while in Columbus on a rehab assignment. Hafner has already initiated his offseason hitting program, so he's way ahead of his pace from a year ago, when he wasn't able to pick up a bat after the surgery until mid-January. "I think it will be important just to work out and get your body ready for the season," he said. "I'll have two months of hitting before going into Spring Training, feeling like you're ready to go, rather than playing catch-up." And with no major physical limitations expected, the Indians hope Hafner can catch up to his old self.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.