CLEVELAND -- The timetable for Travis Hafner's return from his right oblique injury remains unclear, but the Indians' veteran designated hitter is at least inching toward resuming baseball activities.

On Thursday, Hafner was scheduled to begin some plyometrics, according to manager Manny Acta. If that went well, Hafner was going to be permitted to make a trip to the bat rack on Friday.

"He's going to be introduced to a bat tomorrow," Acta said on Thursday. "'Nice to meet you. My name is Travis Hafner.' Then he's going to start doing dry swings."

Dry swings eventually lead to hitting baseballs off a tee. Regular batting-practice activities are next in the progression, barring any setbacks. It seems clear that -- after missing the past two weeks with no established return date -- Hafner will require a Minor League rehab stint before rejoining Cleveland.

On May 18, Hafner injured his oblique on a swing during the third round of pregame batting practice in Chicago. At the time of his injury, Hafner was hitting .345 with five home runs, 22 RBIs and a .409 on-base percentage in 32 games this season.

The initial estimation by the Indians called for Hafner to miss at least three or four weeks. From June 24-July 3, Cleveland will play nine straight games in National League ballparks, meaning they will be not be able to use a DH. On Wednesday, Acta did not rule out having Hafner return before that stretch.

That said, Acta is not about to guess when Hafner might be back.

"We have to go day by day with that," Acta said. "You never know when you're going to have a setback. I really don't want to give you a date. I just can't."

Sizemore staying in middle of the order

CLEVELAND -- Grady Sizemore might return to the leadoff spot for the Indians at some point this season, but now is not the time. Right now, the Indians want the center fielder's potent bat in the heart of the lineup.

"We need a little bit more thump in the middle," Indians manager Manny Acta said on Thursday.

Acta's reason is simple: designated hitter Travis Hafner remains sidelined. Losing Hafner to a right oblique injury on May 18 robbed Cleveland of a consistent threat out of the lineup's No. 5 hole. Sizemore can help fill that void until Hafner is ready to be activated.

For Thursday's game against the Rangers, Sizemore was slotted in as the fifth hitter and served as the DH. The outfielder had been hitting sixth in his five previous games since returning from the 15-day DL after a bout with a right knee injury.

Sizemore is batting .263 with six home runs, 13 doubles, 16 RBIs and 16 runs scored in 23 games for the Indians this season.

Prior to hurting his knee on May 10, Sizemore had served exclusively as a leadoff hitter for the Indians this season. During his two stints on the DL this year -- Sizemore was initially activated on April 17 after a 10-month rehab from left knee surgery -- Michael Brantley has filled in admirably atop the order.

Brantley has remained in that role since Sizemore's latest return.

Acta compared the situation to the start of 2010, when the manager used Sizemore as a No. 2 hitter. He pulled the center fielder out of the leadoff spot last season because the Tribe had traded slugger Victor Martinez in '09, eliminating a solid middle-of-the-order bat from the mix.

"This lineup couldn't afford to have him leading off," Acta said of the situation last season. "This year, having Hafner back and having [Carlos] Santana with us, he could go back to the leadoff spot.

"But right now, without Hafner and with the way some of the guys are swinging the bat, we're better off with [Sizemore] hitting in the middle."

Acta said that Sizemore was DHing for the fifth time in his last six games due to playing on the aritificial turf in St. Petersburg and Toronto earlier this week. Sizemore manned center field on Tuesday against the Blue Jays. In his past two games, he went 4-for-9 with three doubles and five RBIs.

"He hit that turf pretty hard for two days playing center field and hitting those extra-base hits," Acta said. "We're just trying to keep his legs fresh. That turf is tough on guys."

Santana returns to cleanup spot for Indians

CLEVELAND -- Carlos Santana spent the past seven games on a timeout from cleanup duties. On Thursday, the Indians catcher was back in his familiar fourth hole for the opener of a four-game set against the Rangers.

Indians manager Manny Acta downplayed the development.

"There's not such a big difference between fifth and fourth," Acta said. "What's the difference? That you can call the fourth cleanup and you can't call the fifth cleanup? It's no big deal."

After a prolonged slump to start the season, Santana was removed from the No. 4 spot on May 25. The catcher was given a day off for that game against the Red Sox, but he then spent four games as the fifth hitter, and had one-game stops as the No. 6 and No. 7 man.

Through 49 games this season, Santana has hit .224 with six home runs and 24 RBIs. Acta is quick to cite the fact that, despite the low batting average, Santana leads the Tribe (among qualified hitters) with a .362 on-base percentage. Dating back to May 6, Santana had posted a .411 OBP.

"In case you haven't noticed," Acta said, "Santana leads this team in on-base percentage, which means he's making the least amount of outs out of the whole team here. That means a lot to me.

"I'm not a big batting-average type of guy. Outs -- the most important thing in the game -- he gives away the least amount of them."

Technically, Santana's 138 outs were the fewest among Indians hitters with at least 180 plate appearances, entering Thursday. Through Wednesday, he also led the Major Leagues with 4.47 pitches per plate appearance and the catcher had more walks (38) than strikeouts (34).

"He's hitting better," Acta said.

Quote to note

"Flip flopping them? Yeah, I've considered that. I have considered that in the past. I keep considering, and then [Shin-Soo] Choo rifles three into the gap today and the consideration is off the board." -- Indians manager Manny Acta, asked if he has considered batting Grady Sizemore third and Choo fifth

Smoke signals

• Entering Thursday, the Indians were 24-13 against right-handed starters, representing the best mark in the Majors. Cleveland had gone 13-3 against righties at home. Cleveland's .260 average against right-handers ranked second in the American League.

• Going into Thursday's action, the Tribe had lost 12 of its past 15 games against the Rangers, dating back to the start of the 2009 season. The Indians had lost seven of eight and eight of 10 against Texas at Progressive Field during that stretch.

• The Indians will have their June 13 (at Yankees), Aug. 1 (at Red Sox) and Sept. 21 (vs. White Sox) games televised nationally on ESPN. The Tribe's June 10 road tilt against the Yankees will only be shown on SportsTime Ohio due to the NHL's Stanley Cup playoffs.