Notes: Hafner at a loss on recent skid
Slugger, still trying to work through struggles, sits Thursday
CLEVELAND -- The explanations are running out.
Travis Hafner said he's fine physically, his swing feels right and he's seeing the ball as well as ever.
Might he just be having an off year?
"I don't think we want to accept that," manager Eric Wedge said. "For us to do what we need to do, Travis needs to return to his normal self."
The Indians have tried to shake things up with Hafner, bumping him to fifth in the order on Wednesday and giving him the day off on Thursday. Yet little has worked to this point. Even after Wedge's prediction last week that the man known as Pronk looked set to take off, Hafner has only become more deeply mired in his three month-long skid.
Hafner has just six hits in his last 43 at-bats, and since April 23, Hafner is hitting .223.
Hafner still has 68 RBIs and 17 homers, but for a man who recently signed a $57 million extension, a slump Hafner calls his worst since he was in Class A ball has made for frustrating times.
"I just have not been as consistent as I need to be," Hafner said. "It's frustrating when you miss pitches that you know you should handle ... pitches that I've handled in the past."
Wedge was asked if teams might have adjusted to Hafner, an unlike scenario after three-straight prodigious years.
"I still think he is such a great hitter that this falls on Travis," Wedge said. "He's just too good. I don't think there's anyone he can't hit. That's how strong I feel about him."
In the end, however, Hafner has few answers. He simply hopes everything will eventually work itself out.
"I feel like it happens for a reason and I'll be better for this," Hafner said. "I think I'll learn from this and become a better hitter."
Eyeing the Tigers: Josh Barfield refuses to look at the standings. Not yet.
"We've still a third of the season left," Barfield said. "I don't care what Detroit does. [It's] way too early."
Yet it's hard to ignore the fact that both the Tribe and the first-place Tigers have endured their season's worst stretch at the same time. Neither team has taken any advantage of their rival's woes.
On one side, the Indians know they've missed an opportunity to overtake a Detroit club that's dropped of nine of its last 12 games. Yet, there's also the case that the Tribe's scoreboard watchers are making: Even amidst a brutal run that's seen the Indians drop six of its last eight series, they're still just one game out of first place.
"We can look at in a bad way and say, 'Man, we're really struggling,'" starter Paul Byrd said. "But we can also say, 'Hey, we have struggled but Detroit hasn't played that great and we're right there, right in the thick of things.' A few games and we're right back on top. It depends on how you look at it."
Game on: The Tribe's weekend set in Minnesota looks to go on as planned.
Despite rumors swirling that Wednesday's bridge collapse there would force Friday's opener to be pushed back or even move the series to Cleveland, Indians spokesman Bart Swain said the Indians are flying out to Minnesota following Thursday's game.
An eight-lane highway bridge collapsed during rush hour Wednesday night in Minneapolis, killing four with more than 20 people missing.. The Twins played at the Metrodome that night because city officials didn't want thousands of departing fans immediately clogging the roads and hindering rescue efforts.
Minnesota, however, postponed its series finale with the Royals on Thursday.
Tribe tidbits: Grady Sizemore got a little rest in Thursday's series finale. Well, sort of. With Hafner out, the Tribe's center fielder was the club's designated hitter. Kenny Lofton switched over to center field. ... The Indians were 24 1/2 games out of first place at this point last year. ... The Indians signed three more of their 2007 Draft picks on Thursday. The club came to terms with Dallas Cawiezell (pitcher, 40th round, Valparaiso), Walter Diaz (infielder, 48th round, South Florida) and Matt Willard (infielder, 49th round, University of Arkansas). The Tribe has now signed 20 of their 48 selections.
Down on the farm: Jeremy Sowers continued to work his way back in Triple-A Buffalo's 3-2 win at Pawtucket on Wednesday. The 24-year-old lefty allowed two runs -- one earned -- on four hits over 5 2/3 innings in his third straight encouraging outing. Since June 20, following his dreadful first few post-demotion outings, Sowers has an 0.95 ERA. Neither Wedge nor general Manager Mark Shapiro have ruled out the possibility that Sowers could eventually re-join this year's Tribe rotation. ... Double-A Akron starter Shawn Nottingham (8-9) allowed three runs on two hits over six innings and outfielder Ryan Goleski went 3-for-5 with his eighth homer as the Aeros edged Connecticut, 6-3. ... Class A Kinston's John Drennen went 2-for-4 with a homer and four RBIs in the Indians' 10-3 win over Myrtle Beach. ... Starter Paolo Espino (3-3) tossed six innings of one run ball, Cirilo Cumberlatch went 3-for-3 with a pair of RBIs and Roman Pena went 4-for-4 with two runs scored in the Captains' 8-3 powdering of Greenville.
On deck: If all goes to plan, the Indians will open up a four-game set in Minnesota Friday night at 8:10 p.m. ET. C.C. Sabathia (13-6, 3.58 ERA) will be looking for that elusive 14th win against Twins ace Johan Santana (11-8, 2.92 ERA).
David Briggs is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.