CLEVELAND -- Travis Hafner might be back in the lineup before the end of the season, but if his current back problem persists, the veteran designated hitter will have at least ended with a bang.
Hafner's last at-bat ended with a home run -- the 200th of his career -- against the Tigers on Sunday. Since then, Hafner's lower back has flared to the point where the Indians were forced to place him on the 15-day disabled list on Thursday.
Head athletic trainer Lonnie Soloff offered more detail on Friday, explaining that Hafner has a bulging disk in his lumbar spine. Hafner is currently taking anti-inflammatories and he received an epidural injection on Friday to help the swelling.
"Any any of us, it could flare up at any given time," Soloff said. "The fact that he's a power hitter and spends a lot of his time in flection and rotation is certainly a cause of it as well. Our hope is that with the medication, the epidural and the treatment, he's going to feel better."
At this point, the club did not believe surgery was necessary, Soloff said.
"Anything is possible," Soloff said, "but I think that we're optimistic that it'll be a conservative case for us."
Soloff noted that Hafner's back injury flared up after the team's flight from Minnesota to Kansas City on July 29. The DH played against the Royals on July 31, but he was pulled for a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning. After going on baseball's paternity list for three days, Hafner returned to the lineup for Sunday's game in Detroit.
The issue never subsided.
It's the second stint on the DL for Hafner this season. He was sidelined for nearly six weeks after undergoing right knee surgery on May 31. In 60 games this season, he is batting .239 with 11 home runs and 32 RBIs.
Hafner had hit .320 (8-for-25) with three home runs in his seven most recent games.
As of right now, there is no known timetable for his return.
"It will depend solely on his responses to the medication, the injection and the treatment," Soloff said.
Niebla gets right down to work in new position
CLEVELAND -- Ruben Niebla did not have much time to get settled in. When he arrived at Progressive Field around the fourth inning of Thursday's game against the Red Sox, the Indians' new pitching coach found his locker and went right to work.
Niebla has not stopped moving.
"They dropped off the scouting report for the Boston Red Sox," Niebla said, "and they took my iPad and filled it with video. I've got all these things coming left and right. This is my third meeting today. It's been interesting, but it's been fun."
Niebla, who is in his 12th season in the Indians' organization, was promoted from pitching coach at Triple-A Columbus to Cleveland's interim pitching coach on Thursday. He replaces the outgoing Scott Radinsky, who was let go in light of the Tribe's persistent pitching problems this season.
The Indians will have Julio Rangel fill Niebla's former role with Columbus for the rest of this season. Rangel -- a member of the Cleveland organization since 2007 -- is the club's mental skills and lower-level pitching coordinator.
When Niebla arrived in Cleveland, he inherited a pitching staff that ranked last in the American League in runs allowed (574), walks issued (396) and wild pitches thrown (51), and second to last in team ERA (4.72) and strikeouts (740).
Niebla knows he has his work cut out for him.
"The biggest thing is that I build a relationship with all the pitchers," he said. "I think that's important and that's going to be the first thing on my agenda, is [to let] those guys know that I'm here to help them. I'm a resource to them. I'm not here to put the magic wand over anybody.
"I think that if collectively we're working and communicating, I think that hopefully we can get this staff headed in the right direction."
Many of the pitchers inside the Indians' clubhouse already have experience working with Niebla in the Minor Leagues. That was one of the main reasons Cleveland chose him as Radinsky's replacement. For those hurlers, they were happy to have a pitching coach who already brings familiarity.
"To me, it's a good thing," said rookie starter Zach McAllister. "I've been with him the last two years. Definitely, the way it went down with Rad was not a good way to end, but for me, I'm definitely happy to have Ruben here. I think a lot of us that were there last year are happy he's here."
Sore neck keeps Kipnis out of lineup again
CLEVELAND -- Jason Kipnis has not been able to come up with an exact reason behind his current neck pain. The working theory is that the second baseman slept funny on Wednesday.
"All I know is I did something," Kipnis said on Friday.
Whatever Kipnis did, it did a number on him, and he was out of the lineup for Friday's game against the Red Sox. That marked the second straight day that the second baseman was sidelined with the injury.
Cleveland hopes Kipnis can return to the mix on Saturday.
"He's feeling better. He's moving around better," manager Manny Acta said. "We could probably have him available off the bench, because he's getting treatment constantly. We'll see how he progresses throughout the day."
Through 108 games this season, Kipnis has hit .259 with 11 home runs and a team-leading 58 RBIs and 23 stolen bases. He is hoping to get back on the field as soon as possible.
Kipnis just did not want to take any chances given the nature of the injury.
"I don't mind playing through injuries or pain," Kipnis said, "but the neck is something you just can't mess with. There's progress, but it's still sore."
Quote to note
"Baseball is a game of adjustments. Sometimes you have to make some off the field. It's not always that you have to make mechanical adjustments. So after I went back and looked at video and realized it wasn't mechanical, I was like, 'All right, something else has got to change.' So I took away the beard."
-- Closer Chris Perez, on why he shaved his beard
The Indians released sinkerballer Derek Lowe on Friday after he cleared waivers. Lowe, who was acquired in an offseason trade with the Braves, was designated for assignment on Aug. 2. He went 8-10 with a 5.52 ERA in 21 starts this year, but the veteran was 2-9 with an 8.28 ERA in his final 13 outings.
Right-hander Roberto Hernandez was slated to start for Triple-A Columbus on Friday night in what will likely be his last Minor League rehab outing. Barring any setbacks, the team expects to activate Hernandez from the restricted list and add him to the rotation next week, said Acta.
Left-hander Rafael Perez is scheduled to resume his Minor League rehab assignment on Saturday with Triple-A Columbus. Perez (on the 60-day disabled list due to a left lat strain) was recently shut down for a brief period after complaining of shoulder soreness.
Setup man Vinnie Pestano's clean eighth inning on Thursday upped his scoreless-innings streak to 21 frames. That marks the longest run by a Tribe reliever since Paul Assenmacher turned in 23 1/3 scoreless innings in 1997. Pestano is currently tied with Rafael Betancourt (2007) for the club's single-season holds (31) record.