07/25/12 6:54 PM ET
Tribe depending on Santana to keep improving
By Justin Albers / MLB.com
If the offensive production is going to get better, the Tribe will need players like catcher Carlos Santana to get hot at the plate. Santana has struggled through the first four months of the season after hitting 27 homers a year ago, but he's showing signs of improvement.
Entering Wednesday night's game, Santana had reached base via a hit or a walk in 18 consecutive games. The switch-hitter is batting .309 (17-for-55) with six doubles, two home runs, eight RBIs and 16 walks during that span. Santana had only 11 doubles and five home runs in the first 64 games this season.
"He's been seeing the ball a lot better," said Indians manager Manny Acta. "It's good to see, because he's still a fairly young guy who needs to perform in order to keep his confidence level up. You can see in his game when he's doing well offensively. It's only human when you're that young.
"We need him badly. I'm happy for him, but I'm happy for our ball club. We're not going to go anywhere unless him and [Travis] Hafner swing the bat the way they're capable of."
Santana entered Wednesday's game hitting .237 with a .367 on-base percentage, seven home runs and 37 RBIs on the season.
Pronk takes rare opportunity to show off wheels
CLEVELAND -- Off the bat, Travis Hafner was thinking double. The Tribe's designated hitter is not the most fleet of foot, so he rarely thinks about getting a triple.
But when the ball hit off the wall and rolled away from the Tigers outfielders on Tuesday night, Hafner decided to take a risk. He took a hard turn around second, and rumbled into third with a head-first slide. Hafner's triple eventually led to the game-winning run in the Indians' 3-2 victory. It was his second three-bagger of the year after going without one from 2008-11.
"I was running hard," Hafner said, laughing, "and I just wanted to make sure it kept going, and kept going, and kept going so I could try to get there."
For one of the few times since he returned from the disabled list on July 4, Hafner's surgically repaired knee was feeling good. Running was the most difficult part of Hafner's recovery, and Indians manager Manny Acta still gives him an occasional day off the rest the knee.
"Before the game, I was running and my knee felt really good," Hafner said. "I was like, 'If I have to run hard on it, I feel really comfortable doing it now.' I was pretty happy about that. It feels pretty good now."
Hafner said his knee was a little sore on Wednesday afternoon, but he said the pain wasn't significant. He expects the soreness to come and go as he continues to recover.
As soon as Hafner got up and dusted himself off at third base, he was pulled for pinch-runner Lou Marson. Marson scored the game-winning run on Aaron Cunningham's suicide squeeze, but Hafner wished he could have had the opportunity to finish the trip around the bases.
"It's a tough crowd when you get pinch-run for after a triple," Hafner said with a smile. "He must have known that the tank was empty and there wouldn't be enough to get home."
Tribe designates Cunningham to add Lillibridge
CLEVELAND -- It has been a whirlwind month for Brent Lillibridge.
Lillibridge was traded from the White Sox to the Red Sox on June 25, he was designated for assignment by Boston on July 16, and on Wednesday, he arrived in Cleveland to play for the Indians. The Tribe acquired Lillibridge on Tuesday, and he was in uniform for Wednesday night's game against the Tigers.
"It's been a long month," the 28-year-old Lillibridge said. "A lot of crazy things have happened, a lot of emotions, but I'm ready to go. ... I'm just happy to be somewhere. I'm happy to be back in the [American League] Central, because it feels familiar."
To make room for Lillibridge on the active roster, Cleveland designated outfielder Aaron Cunningham for assignment. The 26-year-old Cunningham hit .175 with a home run and seven RBIs in 72 games for the Indians this season. He was used primarily as a defensive replacement in left field, a role Lillibridge figures to take over. Cunningham executed a suicide squeeze play to help the Indians score the go-ahead run in their 3-2 win over Detroit on Tuesday.
Indians manager Manny Acta said the team will keep Cunningham if he clears waivers after a week.
"We like Aaron," Acta said. "He was a good teammate. He did everything we asked him to do. We just felt that by having a guy like Lillibridge, we could use him on the infield to rest [Asdrubal] Cabrera. It was more convenient for us."
Acta plans to use Lillibridge in a role similar to the one he's had in the past. Lillibridge will serve as a late-inning replacement for Johnny Damon and Shelley Duncan in left field, but he'll also get an occasional start at shortstop or second base. Lillibridge came up as a shortstop, so he's comfortable playing on the middle infield.
"I've had some success in the outfield, which I feel like is a lot easier than the infield," Lillibridge said. "But I love the challenge of being on the infield, especially shortstop. You've got to be in on every single pitch. You're locked in the whole game."
Lillibridge's offensive numbers aren't great, but he's hopeful he can turn it around with more at-bats. He hit .165 with two RBIs in 59 games for the White Sox and Red Sox this season. Lillibridge is a career .212 hitter and hit 13 homers in 97 games for Chicago last year.
No matter what his position -- or how much he plays -- Lillibridge is intent on helping the Indians continue their playoff push. They entered Wednesday's game three games behind Detroit for first place in the AL Central.
"I've been close a lot of times, especially with the White Sox," Lillibridge said. "I'm definitely ready to be in contention with these top three teams in the division. It could go all the way until the end, so I'm excited for it."
Quote to note
"We're not bringing this guy over here claiming he's going to turn around our whole ball club, but he's a good fit." -- Acta on Lillibridge, who the Indians acquired on Tuesday in a trade with the Red Sox.
The Indians' successful sacrifice bunt with a runner on third and fewer than two outs Tuesday night made Acta 5-for-5 in such situations during his career as a manager (2007-12). Only Miami's Ozzie Guillen (10-for-10) and Los Angeles' Mike Scioscia (7-for-7) have completed more.
Marson was watching Tuesday night's game in the tunnel during the seventh inning, when Hafner hit the triple. Marson decided to walk back up to the dugout, and he realized bench coach Sandy Alomar Jr. was looking for him. "I heard them yelling for me, and then I just put on my helmet and ran out there," Marson said.
Entering Wednesday, Cabrera had five hits (5-for-8) in the last two games after going just 11-for-68 (.162) in his previous 17 games. He's hitting .280 with 12 homers and 43 RBIs on the season.
Justin Albers is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.