CLEVELAND -- The Indians experienced a dropoff in the quality of their plate appearances throughout the month of June. As it happened, designated hitter Travis Hafner was sidelined for the entire month due to his right knee injury.
It hardly seems like a coincidence.
"I would say that not having him obviously had an effect," Indians manager Manny Acta said.
Well, Hafner is on the verge of rejoining Cleveland's lineup.
Sitting at his locker at Progressive Field on Tuesday afternoon, Hafner said he was feeling much improved, and his expectation was that he would be activated from the 15-day disabled list for Wednesday's game against the Angels. Following a Minor League rehab assignment, Cleveland opted to give the DH one more day to rest.
"It's a recovery day for him today," Acta said prior to Tuesday's game. "There's a very good chance that he'll be activated tomorrow if he's OK."
In three games with Triple-A Columbus, Hafner went 1-for-10, including an 0-for-4 showing on Monday in Toledo. The designated hitter said his focus now is less on the knee and more on getting into a good rhythm at the plate.
"It's just a matter of trying to get your timing," he said. "[The knee] is doing good. Overall, it's good. There's a little bit of soreness off and on maybe running, but that's pretty normal. Overall it's doing really well."
That is a welcome development for the Indians, who have been inconsistent offensively for much of the season, but especially over the past few weeks without Hafner. The DH was one of the team's hottest hitters in April, posting a .357 average with a 1.081 OPS in his first 12 games of the season.
In his 27 games prior to being shelved with the knee injury, however, Hafner hit .189 with a .693 OPS. He then had a right medial meniscectomy performed by Dr. Rick Parker and Dr. Mark Schickendantz at the Cleveland Clinic on May 31.
Through 39 games this season, Hafner is hitting .242 with six home runs, six doubles and 23 RBIs. Acta said Cleveland -- a team trying to stay in the thick of things in the American League Central -- needs Hafner performing at a high level.
"In order for us to compete offensively," Acta said, "we need every single one of these guys healthy and playing up to their capabilities. We need to have Travis and we need to have [Carlos] Santana playing up to their capabilities or our lineup is just not going to be able to sustain any type of competitiveness for the long run."
Indians witness Ubaldo rounding into form
CLEVELAND -- No one is ready to declare that Ubaldo Jimenez is entirely over the command issues that have plagued him in the past, but the Indians feel the pitcher is finally beginning to resemble the type of arm they felt they acquired in a trade last summer.
"He's pitching like a No. 2 or No. 1 guy right now," Indians manager Manny Acta said.
On Monday night, Jimenez's latest effort was overshadowed by the gem turned in by Angels right-hander Jered Weaver in Cleveland's 2-0 defeat. Even so, it was another step in the right direction for Jimenez, who has been strong for the Tribe over his past six outings.
Over his last six starts, Jimenez has gone 2-3, but he has fashioned a solid 2.93 ERA for the Indians over 40 innings. That marks the most innings over a six-start stretch for the righty since he went 4-1 with a 2.70 ERA from June 24-July 19 last season with the Rockies, who dealt him to the Indians in a five-player swap on July 31.
In the latest stretch, Jimenez has amassed 36 strikeouts against 15 walks, with 33 hits allowed over his 40 innings. That is a drastic upgrade over his first 10 outings of the year, during which he went 5-4 with a 5.79 ERA, 42 walks issued, 33 strikeouts and 58 hits surrendered.
Toward the end of that 10-start span, Jimenez began working with pitching coach Scott Radinsky on some mechanical changes within his delivery. The Indians said the pitcher likely would need time for the adjustments to stick, and so far, that prediction appears to have come true.
"Radinsky deserves a lot of credit for working with him," Acta said. "And Ubaldo deserves the credit for doing it. It has worked the way that they had planned it. It was going to take a few starts for the repetition to sink in, and it has happened. He has been consistent in the zone. He has kept up his velocity and he has pitched well ever since.
"I'm not saying he's not going to have a rough outing here and there, but I like the way he's throwing."
And Jimenez has reached a point where his mechanics are not his focus.
"Definitely," Jimenez said. "The first two months of the season, it was really hard because I had to pitch, and at the same time, be thinking about mechanics. Right now, everything is just getting better and better, and I just have to focus on getting hitters out."
Tribe jumps into international signing pool
CLEVELAND -- The international marketplace opened for business on Tuesday, and the Indians have been busy in their efforts to reel in some global talent.
MLB.com has confirmed that Cleveland has agreed to terms with Japanese right-hander Naoki Hashimoto. His signing bonus was reportedly worth $250,000. According to Baseball America, the Indians have also agreed to sign Venezuelan catcher Yoiber Marquina ($475,000) and catcher Francisco Mejia ($350,000) out of the Dominican Republic.
The Indians have also agreed to sign 16-year-old Dominican outfielder Hector Caro, according to Baseball America. Caro's bonus was believed to be worth $1.1 million. The publication also reported that Cleveland has agreed to terms with Dominican shortstop Grofy Cruz ($400,000), who is expected to shift to third base.
The Indians would not confirm any of the deals.
Under the guidelines of Major League Baseball's latest Collective Bargaining Agreement, each organization is given an allotment of $2.9 million to spend on international signings.
Quote to note
"They're like rabbits. Once they got on the base, they're going to be running."
-- Indians pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez, on the Angels
Last season, Indians outfielder Michael Brantley was given the nickname "Dr. Smooth" by Dennis Manoloff of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Last week, the nickname was made about as official as it gets. While the Indians were playing in Yankee Stadium, New York fans in the left-field bleachers began mockingly chanting Brantley's moniker.
"Yeah, they were saying, 'Dr. Smooth,'" Brantley said with a laugh. "They were wearing me out. It's OK, though. I liked it."
Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis entered Tuesday's action with a team-high 20 stolen bases (second in the American League). He is the first Indians infielder to have at least 20 steals before the All-Star break since Roberto Alomar had 21 in the first half of the 2000 season. Kipnis also had a success rate of 95.2 percent (20 steals in 21 attempts).
On Tuesday, the Indians named Double-A Akron outfielder Thomas Neal the organization's Minor League Player of the Week for the period of June 25-July 1. Over that period, Neal hit .500 (14-for-28) with three home runs, six doubles and 10 RBIs for the Aeros. He recorded five multi-hit games.