NEW YORK -- To say that the Indians are looking forward to having Travis Hafner back in the lineup would be a vast understatement. The way things have been going of late for the Tribe, Cleveland is more than ready for the slugger's return.
"I can't wait," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "His presence alone means a lot to our lineup. That being said, he has to be smart and make sure when he joins us that he's ready to go."
On Monday, Hafner took part in early batting practice and then spent time running the bases at Yankee Stadium. The veteran designated hitter is now scheduled to begin a Minor League rehab assignment with Double-A Akron as early as Tuesday.
Hafner -- sidelined since May 18 due to a right oblique injury -- said that he would likely play three or four games with the Aeros before rejoining the Indians. That means that the DH could be ready to be activated from the 15-day disabled list in time for the upcoming weekend home set against the Pirates.
"Everything's good," Hafner said. "They kind of mentioned probably three or four games. Something like that."
Hafner initially injured his oblique during a batting practice swing in Chicago. At the time, the DH was hitting .345 with five homers, eight doubles, 22 RBIs and a .409 on-base percentage in 32 games. Since the Tribe lost Hafner to the injury, the team has gone 8-16, and hit .224 as a team, with 3.2 runs per game on average.
"He's a key piece of our lineup -- it's no secret," Indians outfielder Michael Brantley said. "He's another threat. He was swinging the bat so well before he had the little minor injury, and we look forward to getting him back in the lineup. He drives in runs, he's a big guy, and he's a big part of our lineup."
Acta shuffles lineup for series finale in NY
NEW YORK -- Indians manager Manny Acta did not pull names out of a hat, but that might be his next move if Monday's dramatic lineup shuffle, drawn up for the finale of a four-game series against the Yankees, does not net swift results.
"We've got to keep adapting and improvising and adjusting," Acta said. "We felt that something had to be done."
Outfielder Michael Brantley, who has spent the bulk of this season as Cleveland's leadoff man, was moved into the lineup's third spot. Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera -- the team's best hitter up to this point this year -- assumed the cleanup duties.
Hitting directly in front of Brantley was catcher Carlos Santana, who has off-set his overall struggles with a solid on-base percentage. Center fielder Grady Sizemore -- most recently used in the heart of the order -- was back in his familiar leadoff role.
"I talked to those guys," Acta said. "I'm not expecting any one of them to change their approach at the plate. Just be the hitter you are, because you only hit third or fourth one time -- that's it. Once that lineup starts rolling over, everybody is just a hitter hitting behind and in front of somebody else.
"We're going to give it a few days to see how it works."
The changes come in light of the Tribe's recent offensive woes. Entering Monday's game, the Indians were 4-14 in their past 18 games, with 12 games in which they managed two or fewer runs. Across that same span, Cleveland has averaged only 2.9 runs per game after scoring 5.1 on average in the 45 previous contests.
Brantley entered Monday's game hitting .286 with five home runs, 11 doubles and 27 RBIs in 61 games for the Tribe. He was also hitting .308 with runners in scoring position, and .300 with RISP and two outs. Making his first career start in the third spot, Brantley sounded ready for the challenge.
"I just look forward to trying to drive in some more runs now," Brantley said. "I want my guys to get on base in front of me, and I want to get on base for the guys behind me. That's the whole game plan, and that's what we need to do to start scoring some runs."
Cabrera came into Monday's tilt with a .301 average, 12 home runs, 16 doubles and 42 RBIs in 63 games. The shortstop -- the Tribe's top candidate for earning a spot on the American League All-Star team -- also boasted a .426 average with runners in scoring position.
"We felt that these two guys have been our most consistent hitters over the last two months and have been good in the clutch," said Acta, regarding Brantley and Cabrera. "It's having our best hitters, basically, hitting in the middle of the lineup.""
Tribe knows upcoming series is big
NEW YORK -- Enough is enough. The Indians know that they can ill-afford to have their recent slide continue much longer. The Tribe's footing in the American League Central has weakened and the time has come to get back on track.
"We need to do it," Indians closer Chris Perez said. "Everybody says, 'When we get out of it ...'. Well, we have to get out of it. It might not be a week, but we have to. You can't have that mindset of, 'We're going to get out of it.' We have to just get out of it. We have to start winning some series."
Entering Monday's game against the Yankees, the Indians had lost nine of 10 games and were just 4-14 in their past 18 games. Over that span, Cleveland saw its seven-game lead over second-place Detroit evaporate, and now the Tribe and Tigers are set to open up a three-game set on Tuesday with first place on the line.
As rough as it has been lately for the Indians, though, the team is quick to remind that there is still one important positive that exists.
"We're still in first place, right?" Indians outfielder Michael Brantley said. "At the end of the day, that's what we look at. But at the same time, we have to win baseball games to stay in first place -- that's no secret. The slide that we're on is tough, but at the same time, it takes mental toughness and a great ability to play this game.
"That's what we need to do. Step it up as a whole team."
This is hardly the first time this Cleveland squad has endured some rough times, either. The Indians lost 190 combined games between 2009-10, and outside expectations were low once again when this season began.
"It's not like we haven't been through tough times before," Brantley said. "Most of these guys were up here last year when we struggled almost the entire season. We had our ups and downs, but it was a lot of lows."
Up to this point this year, there have been more highs than lows for the Tribe.
"If you would've asked anybody in this locker room, 'Would you take being tied for first place on June 13th?,' with our injuries, and losing nine out of 10, I think everybody would say yes," said Perez. "That's all you're playing for -- that opportunity to have that chance. We still have that."
Choo regaining focus after early struggles
NEW YORK -- Shin-Soo Choo believes he has spent too much time allowing outside criticism affect his focus this season. The Indians' right fielder has been cutting out the distractions and feels like his mental state is improved.
"I feel a lot better now," Choo said. "It's not showing on the field, but my mind is good. It's much better. I'm not worrying about anything. I'm not seeing any media, newspapers, Internet."
Entering Monday, Choo was hitting .234 with five home runs and 23 RBIs in 61 games this season. In the early-morning hours of May 2, he was arrested in Ohio for driving under the influence of alcohol.
Choo admitted that he had been reading and listening to criticism of him in the media, both in the United States and in his native South Korea. The right fielder also spent time reading what fans were saying about him as well.
"I'm not doing that any more," he said. "I'm just coming to the ballpark, focusing on teammates and baseball."
Quote to note
"I explained to these guys that we're not a fluke. You're not a fluke for two and a half months, if you're in first place for that long. And still, there are a lot of games left. We built up that lead at the beginning and that's why right now we're still in a very good spot." -- Indians manager Manny Acta
Indians outfielder Travis Buck was back in the lineup as the Tribe's left fielder and No. 6 hitter on Monday. Buck and his wife, Summar, were passengers in a New York taxi that was involved in a minor accident on Friday. Buck dealt with headaches, as well as back and neck pain for the past few days. He was feeling much better on Sunday and Monday.
Indians reliever Frank Herrmann recently made a small change that has made a big difference. Herrmann shifted to the first-base side of the pitching rubber, and the righty has been feeling better with his mechanics and pitches since making the move. Over his last six outings, Herrmann had a 1.13 ERA out of the bullpen for Cleveland.
Indians manager Manny Acta said Monday that he had not been informed by Major League Baseball of any penalties resulting from the hit batsmen on Friday or Saturday in New York. Fausto Carmona struck Yankees slugger Mark Teixeira on Friday and set off a benches-clearing incident. One day later, Mitch Talbot was ejected after hitting New York's Alex Rodriguez with a pitch.
Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera was struck on the right elbow by a pitch in the third inning of Wednesday's game against the Twins. That at-bat came in the midst of a 1-for-17 cold spell at the plate for Cabrera, who bounced back with a 3-for-5 showing on Sunday. Indians manager Manny Acta said Cabrera was feeling fine, though the shortstop did have some discomfort while throwing during Wednesday's game.
On Monday, the Indians signed three players who were selected in the First-Year Player Draft last week. Cleveland reached deals with outfielder Bryson Myles (sixth round), right-hander Steven "Grant" Sides (12th round) and outfielder Cody Elliot (21st round).