Bottom of the 9th inning, two runners on, one out. The Tribe still doesn’t have a hit, but coming to the plate is Travis Hafner. First pitch down and away for ball one. Travis is in the driver’s seat against the young Braves pitcher. Second pitch low and now the count is 2 balls no strikes. Third pitch comes in low, but it has the inside of the plate and Hafner decides to take his cut. He drops the head of the bat down and attempts to go the opposite way with the ball. He succeeds, or at least he sends it as opposite field as Hafner can. The ball slices just left of center field and drifts right into the glove of the center-fielder, about medium deep. Hafner fails to deliver.
Obviously we’re talking about an early spring training game. Nobody is pointing to this at-bat and pressing a panic button. Unfortunately for this Tribe fan, the first baseball that I got to see reminded me a little too much of the last time the Indians were on the field. A series in which Hafner hit .148 with 12 strikeouts and 2 RBI. Hafner’s ’07 season certainly was a disappointment for him, and one that he is looking to put behind him.
Paul Hoynes wrote this about Travis Hafner recently-
What Hafner is trying to do, under the guise of normalcy, is leave last season behind. “I’m really looking forward to this year,” he said late last week in the Indians’ locker room at Chain of Lakes Park.
Last year was a good one for the Indians and a mediocre one for Hafner. Could it have been a great season for the Tribe if its designated hitter was at his best? That is a question whose answer doesn’t mean much right now. The Indians came within one victory of the World Series in October, but that was nearly four months ago.
“He had a human season,” said hitting coach Derek Shelton.
Whatever you call Hafner’s ’07 season- whether you call it a disappointment, or a down year, or a human year, it wasn’t what the Tribe bargained for when they gave him the extension in the middle of the year.
There are several players that could be the key to Cleveland’s success this year. Sabathia. Carmona. Westbrook. Martinez. Sizemore. But perhaps the key for the Indians, and especially the offense is getting Pronk back on track. When he is hitting the ball from the 4 spot it makes the rest of the line-up that much better.
Other notes from one meaningless spring game-
Paul Byrd was quite impressive in his 3 innings of work. He struck Mark Texiera out looking and allowed only one ‘hit’. He faced the minimum and ended up throwing on the side to get the rest of his work in.
Jhonny Peralta looked good in his opportunities at short, turning 2 double plays. Matt Underwood commented during the game that Jhonny looks much stronger, having shed some weight and gained muscle mass. Hopefully that translates to more range and stronger throws from the hole.
Joe Borowski, well what can you say. He gave up 3 of the Braves 4 runs. Of course it was a non-save situation, and we remember how well Joe throws in those.
Rafael Betancourt was tanned and in mid-season form. He threw a lot of pitches, as Braves were fouling pitches off left and right, but didn’t allow a run and gave up one hit on a ball that hit off Jason Michaels’ glove.
Maybe the next game will help get the images of ’07 out of my mind. And maybe the Tribe hitters will warm up before 2 outs in the ninth. At least they finally got a hit.