CLEVELAND -- After more than a month on the disabled list, Indians designated hitter Travis Hafner was activated for Wednesday afternoon's game against the Angels. Hafner had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee May 31, and he hasn't played since May 23. He started and batted fourth on Wednesday.
Indians manager Manny Acta said Hafner won't be able to play every day yet, but he won't have the limitation of playing only every other day, either.
"I'm just very excited to be back," Hafner said. "This is kind of what you're wired to do. ... There's still a little soreness here or there running, but I'll just kind of work through it, and it'll get better and better."
To make room for Hafner's return, Cleveland placed outfielder Shelley Duncan on the paternity list. Duncan's wife, Elyse, is in the hospital and is ready to go into labor with the couple's twin boys at any time. Duncan is expected to miss one to three games, giving the Indians a few extra days to decide on another roster move.
"It gives us an opportunity, for a day or two, to think through things," Acta said. "We all know how things can change in the game, and how quick things can happen."
Hafner made a three-game rehab assignment with Triple-A Columbus over the weekend, going 1-for-10 with an RBI. He entered Wednesday's game hitting .242 with six home runs and 23 RBIs in 39 games this season. His return gives the Indians another bat in the middle of the lineup, and it should help take pressure off catcher Carlos Santana.
"He's a middle-of-the-order bat that we've relied a lot on," Acta said. "Even if he isn't firing on all cylinders coming off the DL, he's a guy that carries guys out of the strike zone and walks and creates traffic. Hopefully he can pick us up now."
While the team was happy to get Hafner back, it was an unfortunate time for the Indians to lose Duncan. The left fielder is hitting .391 (9-for-23) with three home runs and seven RBIs over the last seven games. Duncan crushed a solo home run off Angels starter Dan Haren on Tuesday night, giving him three home runs in the last four games.
"He's in a groove right now," Acta said. "It's always nice to have that bat off the bench, especially when he's going well."
Indians honor military on Fourth of July
CLEVELAND -- One day didn't seem like enough, so the Indians began their Fourth of July celebration on Tuesday night. Rebecca Eden, a retired World War II nurse, threw out the first pitch prior to the game against the Angels, and the Brook Park Marine Color Guard was on hand. Fans also got to enjoy a postgame fireworks show set to patriotic music.
On Wednesday, the Indians recognized several military members, including Sgt. First-Class Brady Pugh from Columbus, Ohio, Capt. Shawn Robinson from Akron, Ohio, civilian employee Lori Bennett and First Lieutenant Joel Rivera. Robinson and Rivera are currently serving in Afghanistan.
Indians outfielder Johnny Damon has played on the Fourth of July many times, but he said each year is just as meaningful as the last.
"It's a great day," Damon said. "This country has become one of the best in the world because of what our forefathers did way back then. We're able to go out there and play, entertain and live in this free country. Hopefully there will be plenty of fireworks coming from our bats today."
Lopez no slouch in big spots for Tribe
CLEVELAND -- The Angels chose to work around Jason Kipnis in the fifth inning Tuesday night to get to Jose Lopez. It seemed like a logical move, considering the Indians had a runner in scoring position, and Kipnis leads the team with 48 RBIs.
Lopez, though, made the Angels pay for their decision. Like he has many times this season, the third baseman came through with runners in scoring position, sending a double into the left-field corner to tie the game. Entering Wednesday, Lopez was 10-for-17 (.588) with two doubles and four RBIs in the last four games.
"He's unpredictable," outfielder Johnny Damon said. "You don't know if he's going to try to jump you or work the count. He's in a groove, and it seems like whatever he's swinging at right now is finding a hole."
Lopez has become one of the Indians' top run producers in recent months. He entered Wednesday's game hitting .270 with 27 RBIs in 152 at-bats this season. That gives him an average of one RBI for every 5.6 at-bats. To compare, Kipnis produces an RBI every 6.6 at-bats.
"He's got an approach that probably won't work as much with the bases empty," Indians manager Manny Acta said of Lopez. "He swings away. He's very aggressive. That's how you drive in runs -- swinging the bat. Lopey has been around, he's not afraid to go the other way, and he drives in runs. That's his nature."
Like many teams, the Indians have struggled to hit with runners in scoring position at times this season. But Lopez said he doesn't feel any extra pressure in those situations. Those are the at-bats he lives for.
"Pressure? No," Lopez said. "I go up there the same every time. I just try to hit the ball hard. I like hitting when somebody's in scoring position."
Quote to note
"Travis should get the pressure. He's been around longer, and been there, done that."
-- Manny Acta, on whether Travis Hafner's return will help take the pressure off struggling catcher Carlos Santana.
The Indians have a 14-2 record when relievers Joe Smith, Vinnie Pestano and Chris Perez all appear in the same game.
Manager Manny Acta wasn't pleased with Zach McAllister's choice to throw a 3-2 changeup to Mike Trout in the fifth inning on Tuesday night. McAllister said he didn't think Trout would be able to keep it fair if he hit it, but Trout crushed a three-run homer. "You can't get beat with your third-best pitch, especially with first base empty," Acta said Wednesday. "It's been an ancient rule, basically. It wasn't a bad changeup, it was just a bad situation to go to it."
Right fielder Shin-Soo Choo stayed hot on Tuesday night, going 2-for-5 with a double and triple in the Indians' 9-5 win. Choo entered Wednesday's game hitting .414 (24-for-58) over the last 15 games with seven doubles, two triples, three home runs and eight RBIs. He's raised his average from .265 to .292 during the current stretch.
Justin Albers is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.