CLEVELAND -- Travis Hafner returned from injury, made a brief cameo appearance, then retreated to hibernation. Now, finally, the Indians have their fielding-averse slugger back in the lineup for good.
Hafner returned from the 15-day disabled list on June 17 just in time for a quick, six-game homestand before the Tribe headed out on a 10-day Interleague road trip.
In five games before the team's trip, the designated hitter batted .294 (5-for-17) with two homers and seven RBIs.
But Hafner hasn't played the field since June 24, 2007, and Indians manager Manny Acta said there would be no consideration to changing that on the team's tour of National League parks. So, restricted to a mere pinch-hit appearance each game, Hafner went 2-for-5 on the road trip, with a walk and a hit-by-pitch.
Acta kept it no secret that he wasn't a fan of losing his top hitter for nine games.
"It was painful to go nine days without having him in the lineup, especially with the way he's swinging the bat," Acta said. "He's such a big part of our lineup, so we're very happy to be able to put him out there every day."
For Monday's contest against the Yankees, Acta penciled Hafner into the No. 3 hole in the lineup, a spot at which he plans to keep his designated hitter.
"Now that [right fielder Shin-Soo] Choo went down and we're over on [the American League] side, we feel that that gives us our best lineup and most consistent lineup," Acta said.
LaPorta looking good, nears return to Tribe
CLEVELAND -- The way Matt LaPorta ran the bases Monday afternoon at Progressive Field, one would think he was training for an Olympic sprint, not recovering from a high ankle sprain.
LaPorta took batting practice, grounders at first, and ran the bases Monday, showing no ill effects of the high ankle sprain that has kept him out of action since June 17. After he goes through the same routine Tuesday, he'll either begin a rehab assignment or be activated off the 15-day disabled list, manager Manny Acta said.
"He looked really good in the workout today," Acta said..
LaPorta suffered the ankle sprain during a rundown in a 5-1 win against the Pirates on June 17. He tried to advance from second to third on a grounder to short, but got caught in a pickle, eventually turning the ankle and falling to the dirt, where he was tagged out. LaPorta initially feared the worst.
"I thought I tore a ligament or had broken an ankle, or something," he said. "But, obviously, I didn't."
High praise for Jeter from Acta
CLEVELAND -- Derek Jeter's return to the Yankees' lineup means a return to the pursuit of his 3,000th hit. Indians manager Manny Acta hopes he achieves the feat soon.
"I can't wait for him to get it done," Acta said. "Has anybody represented this game in our era better than that guy? He's one of the few legends that's still playing."
The Yankees activated Jeter off the 15-day disabled list after he missed three weeks with a strained calf, suffered June 13 against the Indians. The shortstop entered Monday's game six hits shy of earning entry into the 3,000-hit club.
Although Jeter is batting .260 with two homers and 20 RBIs, Acta is more impressed by his professionalism and class. Acta even suggested a job Jeter could excel at once he hangs up his cleats.
"If MLB opens a school teaching guys how to act and conduct themselves," Acta said, "[Jeter], Tom Glavine and a few other guys I've run into in my career should be teaching the classes."
Acta said he didn't care when Jeter notches hit No. 3,000, as long as it doesn't hinder a Cleveland victory.
"A great story will be if he gets it at [Yankee Stadium]," Acta said. "But if he gets six hits tonight and we win, I'll be fine, too."
The Indians are 5-7 on July 4 since 2000. In 2006, they pounded the Yankees, 19-1, behind a pair of Travis Hafner homers.
Should Josh Tomlin pitch five or more innings Monday, he would set the record for most starts of at least that length to begin a Major League career. Tomlin (9-4, 3.86 ERA) is currently tied with Boston's Daisuke Matsuzaka at 28 straight outings of five or more frames.
Sidewinding reliever Joe Smith hasn't surrendered an earned run in his last 21 appearances, covering 20 1/3 innings. The right-hander has the best ERA of any American League reliever (0.95).
Zack Meisel is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.