CHICAGO -- Shelley Duncan's primary role is to provide the Indians with a solid offensive option against left-handed pitching.
In Wednesday's 8-6 loss to the Tigers, Duncan looked just fine against hard-throwing right-hander Justin Verlander. Duncan -- in the lineup more of late due to a rash of injuries -- launched a pair of Verlander heaters out to left field for two long home runs at Progressive Field.
"That was impressive," Indians manager Manny Acta said.
Duncan has been an offensive force of late for the Tribe, belting four homers in his past four games, entering Thursday's tilt in Chicago. The part-time utility man -- an option at first base, designated hitter and left field -- had a two-homer showing on Sunday in Kansas City prior to his power display against Detroit's ace.
Of late, Duncan has used increased playing time to his advantage. With left fielder Michael Brantley (right wrist) and designated hitter Travis Hafner (right foot) on the disabled list, and first baseman Matt LaPorta in the Minors, Acta has asked Duncan to fill a variety of roles.
Since being recalled from Triple-A Columbus on Aug. 19, Duncan has hit .317 (13-for-41) with four homers, two doubles and 10 RBIs in 13 games. Overall, Duncan was hitting a career-best .264 through 56 games for the Tribe this season. He was also hitting right-handers (.288) better than lefties (.241).
"He prepares himself," Acta said, "and he's taken advantage of his opportunities as of late, which is good. That's all he can do."
Duncan said the increased time in the lineup has helped.
"Tons," Duncan said. "You got to make small adjustments here and there. You're comfortable seeing the baseball. You go up in the box and put together a game plan and stick to it, instead of grinding every single at-bat."
Cabrera's breakout season cooling off
CHICAGO -- Indians manager Manny Acta could not help but laugh a little when asked if shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera has been his team's most valuable player this season.
"Without a doubt," Acta said with a chuckle prior to Thursday's game against the White Sox. "Is there a runner-up?"
As strong as Cabrera's season has been for Cleveland, though, the All-Star shortstop has not been immune to slumps. Entering this series in Chicago, Cabrera was mired in a slump that stretches to early August, or as far back as mid-June, depending on how the numbers are divided.
Over Cabrera's previous 32 games, dating back to Aug. 2, he hit at a .206 (26-for-126) clip with three home runs and 17 RBIs, posting a .287 on-base percentage and a .317 slugging percentage along the way. Since June 19, Cabrera hit .243 with a .320 OBP and a .403 SLG over 68 games.
Prior to that last stretch, Cabrera hit .301/.345/.510 in his first 69 games of the year.
"It's probably wear and tear," Acta said. "He's played more games than he has played over the last two or three years, especially last year when he missed so much time with that broken forearm."
Indeed, Cabrera missed roughly two months in 2010 with a fractured left forearm and only appeared in 97 games for the Tribe. His 137 games this season are a career best, as are the 22 home runs and 82 RBIs. Overall, Cabrera has hit .273 for the Indians, though Acta cites the power production to account for the drop-off in average.
"I wouldn't look at the batting average so much," Acta said, "because he flat-out has traded some points on that batting average for overall production and power and runs batted in. We'll take that any time. I'd rather see him do what he's done this year than hit 20 points higher with not as much production."
Without getting into specifics, Acta added that Cabrera has played through some minor injuries throughout this season, too.
"He's fine right now," Acta said. "He went through a lot of periods where nobody knew what he was going through and he was still performing at a high level. That's why he deserves so much credit. He's played through a lot of pain for a lot of games."
Hafner expected to return during road trip
CHICAGO -- Having a pair of players who can only serve as a designated hitter would typically present a problem for a team. For the Indians, it appears to be an ideal situation for this season's final few weeks.
On Thursday, Travis Hafner continued a running program at U.S. Cellular Field to test his recovering right foot. Barring any setbacks, Hafner is expected to be activated from the 15-day disabled list some time during Cleveland's current 10-day road trip.
When Hafner returns, he will share the DH duties with veteran Jim Thome.
"I think it helps both of them," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "Jim is not going out there every day, and we're not anticipating running Hafner out there every day, either. It'll benefit us, because for sure we'll have one of the two guys in the lineup in just about every game."
Hafner did some light jogging in the outfield, marking his second straight day of "land-based" running drills. Prior to this portion of his rehab, the 34-year-old Hafner had been running in an anti-gravity treadmill that reduces the stress on a runner's legs and feet.
Head athletic trainer Lonnie Soloff said Hafner will continue to add more elements to his routine as he builds up to running the bases. Hafner has also been taking regular batting practice for the past few days. The expecation is that the DH will be able to come off the DL within the next week.
"I hope so," Hafner said. "It's really just day to day, but hopefully I'll be back some time during this trip."
Hafner, who has hit .281 with 11 homers and 49 RBIs in 82 games this season, landed on the DL on Aug. 22 with what Soloff has described as a strained tendon in the bottom of his foot. After coming off the DL, if Hafner still experiences discomfort while running, offseason surgery would be an option.
Quote to note
"His consistency and his ability to stay on the field the whole season has really helped him out. Plus, he has set the tone with his leadership, which comes not only by being vocal, but by playing through pain and staying out there when your team needs you. He's done that the whole season."
--Indians manager Manny Acta, on shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera
Right-hander Josh Tomlin (right elbow) began a throwing program by playing catch on Wednesday in Cleveland. Indians manager Manny Acta did not rule out the possibility of having Tomlin rejoin the rotation before the end of the season. Said Acta: "It all depends on how he reacts after the throwing program starts."
Third baseman Jack Hannahan (left calf) and right fielder Shin-Soo Choo (left oblique) are not with the team for its four-game series in Chicago. Both will likely rejoin the Indians for their three-game road series in Texas that begins on Tuesday. Choo will be eligible to come off the 15-day disabled list for Tuesday's game. Hannahan is not on the DL.
First baseman Matt LaPorta, who was optioned to Triple-A Columbus on Aug. 30, will be eligible to be promoted back to the big leagues on Friday. Acta did not say whether LaPorta would join the Major League team in Chicago, but the first baseman is expected to be promoted before the end of the Tribe's 10-game road trip.